Altair’s Guide to the Social Housing Green Paper

The highly anticipated green paper on social housing was released Tuesday 14th August 2018, within it some key implications for the social housing sector.

There has already been significant focus on the lack of detail or new money to increase the supply of new homes. However, there is a lot more to the green paper than development.

We at Altair work closely with boards and executives and top teams across the housing sector, so we have prepared this guide to draw out the key policies and proposals senior stakeholders in the sector need to be thinking about going forward.

What: The social housing green paper is a consultation document. It sets out a series of findings, proposed policies and points of question with the aim of further consultation. This means that this green paper provides a forum for input and influence, and boards and executives should be talking about how their organisation will respond to the consultation questions during the twelve-week consultation period ending 6 November 2018.

Who: Published by the newly established Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the green paper is endorsed by the Prime Minister and the new housing secretary James Brokenshire. The document’s content is derived from key housing and output statistics in addition to the input of 1,000 residents and 7,000 other online contributors.

Why: Launched by then-housing secretary Sajid Javid at the NHF Conference in September last year, the document follows a series of housing-related policy actions by the government, including the housing white paper issued in February 2017. The announcement of the social housing green paper reflected on a need for a “top-to-bottom” review of the social housing sector, with a focus on safety and resident voice stemming from the Grenfell Tower Tragedy in June 2017.

Key Themes and Implications:

  1. Resident safety and Decent Homes: The government is looking beyond supply of numbers and more closely at the safety and quality of existing stock. It would like to revisit the Decent Homes Standard to assess if additional regulatory measures are necessary to ensure social homes are safe and decent, and also, to test whether the safety measures introduced in the private rented sector may be appropriate for social housing.
  2. Complaints and the customer voice: The government is proposing to examine the current processes for complaints and has requested more input on how to improve resident clarity on complaints processes and the efficacy of a regulatory Code of Practice for resolving complaints redress to ensure they are “swift and effective”. Following the theme of empowering residents, the government would also like to investigate ways residents may have more choice over service contracts.
  3. Stigma and performance: The government is keen to see stigmatisation of social housing tenants eliminated, and it recognises that landlords should play a role in this, including through anti-stigmatisation initiatives such as the “See the Person” campaign, and best neighbourhood competition. The government would also like to understand the value of introducing Key Performance Indicators for neighbourhood management and Anti Social Behaviour. It is also interested in innovation pilots.
  4. Empowering the Regulator: The government is looking at increasing the power and responsibility of the Regulator. One of the new proposed responsibilities includes the annual publication of KPIs of housing providers (league tables). By comparing landlords in a transparent and direct manner, the government proposes that residents will be better able to understand how their organisation is doing. They are also exploring how to hold landlords to account using these KPIs, including by informing their Affordable Homes Programme bid assessments and future strategic partnerships. The government is also interested in exploring how effective regulation is across the sector’s landlord types, including for local authorities, ALMOS and TMOs who fall out of the remit of the Regulator’s economic standards.
  5. Strategic partnerships: The green paper indicates clear support for community-led initiatives for the development, regeneration and management of social housing. The paper reinforces the place for housing companies but also proposes greater focus on the transfer of social stock from local authorities to community-led housing associations. It also raises the question of allocations policies, suggesting that they may be revised to ensure existing social housing is used for those who need it most and as a ’springboard’ to home ownership.
  6. The role of local authorities & housing associations in increasing supply: Reflective of their vision for “a new generation of council homes”, the government announced an increase in local authority borrowing by £1 billion in areas of high affordability pressure to promote local authority housebuilding. The government also acknowledges the roles and responsibilities of housing associations in the supply market, and the paper includes discussion around providing housing associations with more certainty over future development by declaring the rent settlement of CPI +1% to 2025 and by looking at ways of ensuring predictable and stable funding. It is clear, however, that stability of funding streams must tie directly to increased development. The support for home ownership, including through shared ownership is supported. But there is also very specific reference to social housing as an important option.

The paper also takes the opportunity to reference a number of existing policy proposals of particular concern to the sector; the government now plans to scrap their policies to force local authorities to sell off their highest value assets to build more affordable homes and to make payments on vacant high-value properties. They’ve also decided not to pursue their restriction on the use of lifetime tenancies for social tenants, claiming this is best decided at the local level. Moreover, despite the extension of the Right to Buy pilot in the Midlands, the government has yet to propose the extension of Right to Buy to all housing association residents.

The green paper continues to mark a shift away from the policies of the previous Conservative administration, and whilst not a sea change, is starting to better reflect the wider challenges of affordable housing, which is not just a supply problem.