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Social housing is housing to rent below market rents or to buy through schemes such as shared ownership. Four million households live in rented social housing in England, just under a fifth (17%) of all households. In 2019-20, 10% (2.4 million) of all households rented from housing associations, and 7% (1.6 million) from local authorities

Social Housing Green Paper

The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 exposed a range of issues with social housing and provided an impetus for change. In August 2018, following extensive engagement and consultation with social housing residents across the country, the Government published a Social Housing Green Paper – A new deal for social housing – which aimed to “rebalance the relationship between residents and landlords”.

Alongside the Green Paper, the Government published a Call for evidence: Review of social housing regulation which sought views on how well the regulatory regime was operating. The Green Paper consultation ran from 14 August to 6 November 2018 and received over 1,000 responses.

Social Housing White Paper

After a gap of two years, on 17 November 2020 the Government published a Social Housing White Paper –The Charter for Social Housing Residents. The Charter sets out measures designed to deliver on the Government’s commitment to the Grenfell community that “never again would the voices of residents go unheard” and on its 2019 manifesto pledge to empower residents, provide greater redress, better regulation and improve the quality of social housing.

The White Paper is intended to deliver “transformational change” for social housing residents. It sets out measures to:

  • Ensure that social housing is safe.
  • Make it easier to know how social landlords are performing, to increase transparency and accountability.
  • Ensure swift and effective resolution of complaints.
  • Strengthen the consumer standards social landlords must meet and create a strong, proactive regime to enforce them.
  • Empower residents.
  • Ensure good quality, decent homes and neighbourhoods.
  • Support home ownership.

The roles of the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman are being strengthened to help deliver these measures.

The Social Housing White Paper applies to social housing landlords and residents in England. Different policies apply in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Stakeholder reaction

Overall, the White Paper has been well received by tenants, social landlords and the housing sector. Measures intended to raise standards, increase transparency and accountability, improve the complaints and redress process, and engage and empower residents have been widely welcomed.

Nevertheless, concerns have been expressed about some elements, including:

  • the slow pace of social housing reform;
  • failure to address issues around the supply of homes for social rent;
  • lack of clarity about who and what social housing is for;
  • failure to fully address the issue of stigma, exacerbated by the Government’s strong focus on home ownership;
  • lack of a national platform or representative body to represent tenants’ interests; and
  • potential challenges for social landlords in resourcing all the new requirements.

What next?

There is no timetable attached to delivering the measures set out in the Social Housing White Paper.

The White Paper provides a framework for reform, but the detail of many of the proposals requires further development and engagement with the sector. This may take several years. For example, the Regulator of Social Housing plans to carry out stakeholder engagement and consultation on new tenant satisfaction measures throughout 2021-22, with a view to introducing them in 2023.

Some of White Paper proposals will require primary legislation before they can be implemented. The Queen’s Speech 2021 did not include a Social Housing Bill. The background briefing notes state that the Government will continue to deliver on the White Paper proposals and will “look to legislate as soon as practicable.”

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