Housing

Social landlords could face unlimited fines and 'Ofsted-style' inspections under new Social Housing Bill

A new bill to address conditions in social housing will give new powers to tenants and regulators.

The new legislation is part of the government's levelling up agenda to reduce inequality. Image: LondonLessTravelled/Flickr

Social housing landlords could face “Ofsted-style” inspections and unlimited fines under new powers proposed by the government to tackle collapsing standards in social housing across the country.

The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill will make it easier for regulators to tackle landlords presiding over dangerous or disgusting conditions and give more power to tenants to hold landlords to account.

Announcing the bill, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “In 2022 it is disgraceful that anyone should live in damp, cold and unsafe homes, waiting months for repairs and being routinely ignored by their landlord. These new laws will end this injustice and ensure the regulator has strong new powers to take on rogue social landlords.”

Images posted online of appalling conditions in social housing blocks have shocked social media users in recent months. Pictures and videos shared by campaigners and reported by The Big Issue have included dangerous levels of black mould, damp, leaking pipes, raw sewage running down interior walls and infestations of mice and cockroaches.

Tenants have often reported their social housing landlords have been slow to address the problems, if at all, leading campaigners such as Kwajo Tweneboa to uncover and publicise scores of problems at housing associations such as Clarion.

New proposals in the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill include:

  • The threat of “unlimited” fines for the worst social housing providers
  • Regular inspections for the biggest organisations
  • Powers to enforce emergency repairs carried out by regulators and paid for by landlords
  • A 250-person residents panel to share experiences with ministers and inform decisions
  • A requirement for landlords to name an individual responsible for health and safety
  • The ability for tenants to demand information from landlords in a similar manner to freedom of information requests

The new legislation, which was trailed in the Queen’s Speech in May, is part of the government’s “levelling up” agenda to address yawning inequality in the UK which has worsened under Boris Johnson’s premiership.

“We are driving up the standards of social housing and giving residents a voice to make sure they get the homes they deserve,” Gove added. “That is levelling up in action.”

Lord John Bird, crossbench peer and founder of The Big Issue, said: “I’m pleased to hear that the government has committed to introducing legislation through the social housing (regulation) bill to strengthen protections for private renters and the socially rented sector. It is vital for all residents to live in a safe, secure, good quality and affordable home.”

A long-awaited Renters’ Reform Bill was also mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, expected to give private renters greater protections and end section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, under which landlords don’t need to give a reason for evicting tenants.

“We have been campaigning tirelessly to scrap no fault evictions, as section 21 is the largest cause of evictions and homelessness,” continued Lord Bird. “Under section 21 a tenant, promptly paying rent and abiding by all conditions of tenancy, can lose their home.

“These protections for renters are a welcome step from the government, and I hope to see further preventative measures put in place to help people, especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet, remain in their homes and not put at risk of homelessness.

“There is still more that can be done to safeguard low-income renters and reduce inequality, so let’s make sure we carry on building on this progress.”

Labour dismissed the proposals as ineffective, however. Lisa Nandy MP, Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary, said: “Five years after the Grenfell tragedy, it should be widely understood that never again can tenants have so little power that they are invisible to decision-makers only a few miles away in Westminster.

“Rating your landlord and allowing a 250 person panel to meet three times a year with ministers is not power.

“The government need to come forward with proper proposals for tenants to take action against cold, damp unsafe homes in both social and private rented sectors. If they won’t, Labour will amend this bill to give real powers to tenants and establish a zero-tolerance approach to homes unfit for human habitation.”

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