Q4 Sector stocktake: What a start to the year!

Posted: 28th March 2024 Bekah Ryder, Research & Insights Manager

Altair has just completed our quarterly round-up for clients on what’s happening in the social housing sector. And what a quarter. We started off with several consultations being launched by the government, news of the rent settlement, publication of the statutory complaints handling code from the Housing Ombudsman, and a spring budget from the Chancellor.

The biggest announcement was, of course, the new consumer regulation regime from the Regulator of Social Housing, including new guidance on regulatory and enforcement powers. While the new standards should reflect what social landlords are already doing, this is the largest shake-up to regulation of social housing in several years, including inspections and proactive consumer regulation of local authority landlords. However, much remains to be seen with the new regime, and while the regulator has completed pilots with social landlords, there is certainly still much learning for both the regulator and social housing providers.

We can expect a number of self-referrals to the regulator over the new consumer standards, with any material issues indicating a breach, or potential breach, of the standards reported to the regulator in a timely manner. If you want to speak to Altair about your approach, please contact our Head of Consumer Regulation, Anne-Marie Bancroft.

Meanwhile, the operating and financial environments for social landlords remain tough. While inflation is falling, the increased regulatory oversight comes with increased cost to the business (not to mention higher fees from the Ombudsman and regulator). This is alongside delivery of new homes and cost pressures around investment in existing homes. Global accounts show a record £7.7bn was spent on repairs and maintenance in 2022/23, 20% more than the previous record of £6.5bn in 2022. The latest quarterly survey shows that the increased demand on resources has reduced cash balances for large private registered providers to their lowest level in 10 years (£4.2bn).

The focus within social housing remains the landlord-tenant relationship, building safety, and quality of homes. And, with this, comes a raft of new reporting and assessment requirements. Large social landlords will be busy completing their data returns to the regulator come April, but there will also be self-assessment of compliance with the new consumer standards. Also from April, the Building Safety Regulator will start asking for building assessment certificate applications – data from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities shows 56% of buildings with unsafe cladding have yet to start remediation works. June will see the first submission of Tenant Satisfaction Measures to the regulator and first ever submissions on self-assessment of compliance with the new statutory complaints handling code to the Housing Ombudsman.

Alongside effective and meaningful tenant engagement, the new requirements highlight the critical importance of data to drive decision-making by boards and portfolio holders. Social landlords need to honestly ask themselves how accurate, up-to-date, complete, and reliable their data is. Overarching all of this, you need to ask whether your data management is up to scratch.

We’ve also seen rising levels of homelessness, with rough sleeping increasing by 27% from 2022 to 2023 and those owed a main housing duty increasing by 24% from 2021/22 to 2022/23. Other government data shows over one in ten social renting households have used a food bank in the last 12-months. On a more positive note, this quarter has seen research supporting campaigns for more social housing, including National Housing Federation research on how much 90,000 social rented homes being built would add to the economy (£51.2bn) and the potential of Rural Housing Exception sites to develop affordable housing in rural England.

2024 will certainly be an interesting year for social housing. If you wish to stay up-to-date with key issues and insight within the sector through our quarterly sector stocktake, please get in touch.

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