Tenant safety and housing regulation

Tenant safety is precious. The Cave Review highlighted tenant protection as one of its guiding principles for the Social Housing Regulator.

rubber stamp marked with regulation

When the Regulator ran the National Conversation in 2009 tenants highlighted health and safety as their second most important issue.

As a result the Regulatory Framework includes a requirement that landlords meet all applicable statutory requirements that provide for the health and safety of the occupants in their homes.

This was intended to provide further reassurance but that the main responsibility would remain through building and fire regulations.

The Localism Act 2011 separated ‘economic’ and ‘consumer’ regulation and health and safety became part of consumer regulation.

This meant it was regulated reactively, rather than proactively, and subject to a ‘serious detriment’ check before the Regulator could act.

Furthermore, the Act loosened the relationship between the Regulator and Local Authorities, which were substantially covered by consumer regulation.

Even with these restrictions the Regulator has taken its role on tenant safety seriously. Over a dozen Housing Associations have received regulatory notices and governance downgrades following failures to ensure gas and fire safety checks.

The Regulator have taken failure to comply as a sign of weakness in governance and acted accordingly.

In addition the Regulator has issued regulatory notices to two councils on Health and Safety – Blackpool Council following a fine of £50,000 for the failure of a balcony (which had been reported by tenants and where there was a tenant standing on the balcony at the time of collapse who narrowly escaped into their flat) and Redditch Council for a significant number of out-of-date gas safety certificates.

When asked the Regulator has indicated it will await the outcome of the Public Inquiry into Grenfell Tower and respond if this shows issues with governance rather than building and fire regulations (which are outside its remit). However three issues remain current.

Firstly, the Regulator has already been proactive (and rightly so) in the area of tenant health and safety.

It has written to all Housing Associations and Councils reminding them of their responsibility to meet health and safety requirements and to report any issues around non-compliance to the Regulator.

In my view this is accepting that tenant health and safety is no longer a ‘reactive’ consumer standard but an integral part of governance and covered by economic regulation. The Regulator should consult on this quickly, where I suspect it will receive support from the sector, and act transparently on this in the future.

Secondly, the Regulator needs to build relationships with Councils on health and safety. The intention of both the Cave review and the Housing and Regeneration Act was to ensure common treatment for both council and housing association tenants.

The Localism Act derailed that intention. The above consultation should include coverage of its role with Local Authorities in this area and also be transparent about its agreed role.

Thirdly there needs to be a wider discussion about the routes for tenants to report concern about issues of serious detriment.

There are already talks between the Regulator and the Ombudsman about joint working. This follows the situation at Circle (now part of Clarion Group) when they were upgraded despite the Regulator knowing about on-going complaints. Interestingly I set up the initial agreement between the Regulator and Ombudsman in 2010.

I have been interviewed on the radio several times and refused to be drawn on what might have prevented the fire at Grenfell.

This is a matter for the Public Inquiry. That said we do need to review how best housing regulation and the Regulator can respond to what happened to ensure tenant safety going forward.

Phil Morgan is writing in a personal capacity.