Social housing consumer regulation

Kate Dodsworth, Director of Consumer Regulation at the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), provides insights into how social landlords should respond to the inclusion of the proposed Social Housing Regulation bill.

‘Act now to be prepared for the new social housing consumer regulation’ says Social Housing Regulator

In a recent webinar hosted by Mazars, UK, Kate Dodsworth, Director of Consumer Regulation at the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) provided insights into how social landlords should respond to the inclusion of The Social Housing Regulation bill in the Queen’s speech earlier in the spring of 2022.

The Bill was created in response to the Grenfell disaster to improve tenants’ rights, giving them easier access to redress if things go wrong with the quality of their living standards, complaints resolution and repairs. It is a part of a wider call for a culture shift to a greater focus on tenants, with the Regulator, the Housing Ombudsman, and the new Building Safety Regulator all key stakeholders. In its consultation on the proposed new Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs), the RSH received over 1,100 responses, 55% of which were from residents. This level of engagement from residents should be an indicator to the sector that there are things to put right.  

The key message of the Regulator was to ‘act now’, as it has been telling the sector now for some time. Although the new consumer regulation powers will not come into effect until the Bill is implemented by parliament, those boards, and councillors responsible for social housing should not wait and risk falling short of the new standards. It should prompt a renewed focus from social landlords on delivering a cultural shift towards consistent trust and respect for residents, and the delivery of professional, friendly, and courteous service which residents should receive in every interaction with their landlord.

The challenge for Boards is having meaningful assurance over customer facing services whilst at the same time dealing with an-ever broadening agenda. Boards need to understand what the reality is like for tenants dealing with the services their organisations are providing, and Boards need assurance over the quality of those services.

Registered Providers (RPs) have an important job over the next 18 months or so before the Bill comes into effect to develop strong assurance frameworks to give the Boards the information they need. It is essential for Boards to understand they need evidence-based assurance – not reassurance. RPs should avoid complacency in believing customer services failures could not happen to them and instead go looking for the causes of failure, look beyond the obvious satisfaction measures, and really try to understand whether different groups are getting a different quality of service when they engage with their landlord.

Kate said: ‘social landlords need to know their customer data, their vulnerabilities, and the quality of their existing stock. Boards should ask themselves whether their culture is such that it allows problems to surface and be addressed’.

RPs will need to develop their own approaches to tenant engagement and should not expect prescription from the RSH on what ‘good’ looks like. It is important that RPs understand that simply having a resident scrutiny group will not be enough in this new world, and they will need to show creativity and innovation to ensure tenants not involved in formal structures feel involved and heard, in a way that works for them.  

Kate said: The Regulator will seek assurance from landlords that they encourage tenants’ views, standards are being met, and they are compliant.’ Therefore, the onus is on landlords to demonstrate that they meet the requisite standards of service provision.

Boards should take the opportunity now, to really understand their culture of customer service:

  • It is always prompt, courteous and respectful?
  • Are your staff empowered to solve residents’ problems or do they simply follow a script? 
  • Do you know what the trends are from the customer data and complaints?

Kate finished with a reminder: ‘Providers should make sure they are already compliant with the Consumer Standards in their current form, learn from the wider lessons the RSH shares via its Consumer Regulation Review, and focus relentlessly on data quality, particularly around repairs and compliance’.

If you have any questions on the above, or any other related issues for the social housing sector, please get in touch today.

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