Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A year on from the Grenfell Tower fire, and the debate around social housing continues...

It is over a year ago now since the Grenfell Tower fire:
Futures Forum: "The Marks of Austerity" > Grenfell Tower one year on

All sorts of promises were made at the time and subsequently:
Futures Forum: "The Grenfell Tower fire revealed how humanity has been sucked out of the planning process: we must stop talking about ‘regeneration’ and start looking at neighbourhood restoration."

The government has started to address the issues around social housing:
Futures Forum: A solution to our housing problems: build social housing

And it has just brought out that long-awaited Green Paper:

James Brokenshire launches a new deal for social housing residents

Social housing green paper offers an opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety for residents living in social housing.

Published 14 August 2018

A ‘new deal’ for social housing residents, as part of the government’s commitment to make a housing market fit for the future has been launched by Secretary of State for Communities Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP.

The social housing green paper aims to rebalance the relationship between tenants and landlords, tackle stigma and ensure that social housing can be both a safety net and springboard into home ownership.

With the experiences of those living in social housing brought to the forefront following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, over 8,000 residents from across the country have shared their views of social housing as part of the government’s listening exercise.


The government’s Social Housing Green Paper has prompted a huge amount of debate among Inside Housing’s contributors. Carl Brown rounds up the main talking points so far.

It is now a week since the government published its long-awaited Social Housing Green Paper, and we have been inundated with different viewpoints on the merits of the document or otherwise.

Is it a seminal document that will change the face of tenant engagement? Does it show the government really supports social housing now? Or is it all a bit of a let down?

Here are six of the key debates about the green paper so far:

1. What should the role of the regulator be?

The Social Housing Green Paper notes that the proposals “present the opportunity to look afresh at the regulatory framework.” It suggests “sharper teeth” for the regulator and league tables in which landlords will be compared to each other using key performance indicators. This has opened a much wider debate in the sector about the role of the Regulator of Social Housing.

Julian Ashby, former chair of the regulator, argues here that the regulator’s role should be limited to dealing with systemic failure and that the Housing Ombudsman Service should deal with all tenant complaints.

On the other hand, David Bogle, chief executive of Hightown Housing Association, believes any enhanced role for the regulator should also include monitoring how associations assist homeless people. This, he says, should include looking at how associations help homeless people through lettings, minimising evictions and supporting councils’ homelessness work.

2. How could league tables and performance indicators actually work?

The green paper suggests grant decisions could be tied into the proposed new housing association league tables – meaning government cash could be awarded according to how well landlords meet the new performance indicator.

The prospect of landlords being ranked has already led to some sector figures voicing concern. Geeta Nanda, chief executive of Metropolitan, has warned that focusing on certain indicators “could drive the wrong behaviour”, while Paul Hackett of Optivo says they could be a “blunt instrument”

Mervyn Jones, director of Savills Housing Consultancy, agrees in this piece that strengthened measures of service delivery should inform grant funding decisions. However, he goes on to say that the “impact of poor performance is limited.”

Mr Jones suggests the regulator should be given the means to “issue fines and order payment of compensation to those let down by their landlords.”

Alistair McIntosh, chief executive of Housing Quality Network, also suggests league tables would bring “promotion and relegation” into play, with those doing well receiving grants and land.

Mr McIntosh does qualify this, however, by saying there is a “big if” as to whether league tables could be made to be reliable. “There is not enough information out there to make smart decisions about which landlords to back,” he writes.

Ross Fraser, former chief executive of Housemark, has warned that unless data collection and validation is rigorous, landlords could ‘game’ their data

3. Are the green paper proposals really a boost for resident involvement?

A large focus of the green paper is on improving tenant engagement, and the aforementioned plans for league tables and performance indicators are part of a plan to ‘arm’ tenants with information about their landlords.

The paper also asks whether there should be stronger representation for tenants at a national level and floats the idea of a programme to promote the transfer of council stock to community-based housing associations.

Jenny Osbourne, chief executive of Tpas, has welcomed the government’s “renewed focus” on tenant empowerment, but criticised the government for a “lack of link-up to welfare reform” and for a lack of social housing investment.­­

Melanie Rees, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said it is good that the government is looking at stronger representation at a national level. She said, however, when it comes to individual measures in the paper, there “are no real game changers”.

On challenging the stigmatisation of social housing tenants, Ms Rees says the government’s commitment to combating this problem is “welcome” but questions whether there is enough in the paper to achieve this.

She also, along with our blogger Jules Birch here, questions whether a government can really be said to value social housing if it uses the term ‘springboard’ to describe people moving out of it into homeownership.

Emma Maier, editor of Inside Housing, has called the measures on combating stigma “underwhelming” and says the government will need to “look at how it speaks with and about tenants”.

4. How concerned should we be about the lack of measures in the green paper to address supply?

Much of the immediate reaction to the green paper in the wider mediafocused on criticism from Shelter, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others about the absence of government funding for new social homes.

Jules Birch, in a blog for Inside Housing, notes that there is no new money for housebuilding, even though expanding supply is one of the green paper’s five key themes.

However, Boris Worrall, chief executive of Rooftop Housing Group, believes this “misses the point” and that tackling supply was never the point of the green paper, which was born in the aftermath of Grenfell.

5. Does the green paper signal a new chapter in the relationship between housing associations and the government?

For Mr Worrall, the paper is the culmination of a strategy from the sector to “reboot the relationship with government” after the sector was criticised by ministers three years ago. He says the tone of the document suggests the government now sees associations as “trusted partners” rather than enemies.

At the very least, notes Emma Maier, the government appears to be in “listening mode” and the sector should try to take advantage.

Jules Birch describes the green paper as “remarkable” in many ways, not least because the proposals would sweep away or amend a lot of housing policy over the past eight years.

Inside Housing has compiled a list of the main U-turns here.

6. To what extent do the green paper proposals help council house building?

The government has announced it will not go ahead with plans to force councils to sell their higher-value stock. It is also consulting, in a separate document published alongside the green paper, on proposals to change the way Right to Buy receipts can be spent, to help councils build more homes.

John Bibby, chief executive of the Association of Retained Council Housing, says the two measures in the green paper mentioned above are welcome, but “unlikely to see any significant overall increase in the current stock”. Mr Bibby wants to see Housing Revenue Account borrowing caps lifted to allow local authorities to borrow more for housebuilding.

Listen to the latest episode of The Housing Podcast, as we rate the Social Housing Green Paper out of 10 on different measures:

Social Housing Green Paper: full coverage

Social Housing Green Paper: full coverage
All our Social Housing Green Paper coverage in one place:
Green paper measures are not enough to create May’s ‘new generation’ of council homes Green paper proposals are welcome but much more is needed to support councils to build, writes John Bibby
Green paper shows ministers now sees associations as trusted partners Focusing on the failure of the green paper to address supply misses the point, writes Boris Worrall
Government should focus on building on what is already strongPhilippa Jones considers the Social Housing Green Paper through a slightly different lens
We need more than a week of delayed announcements bundled together Jules Birch reflects on the government’s ‘Housing Week’ announcements
The regulator should monitor how associations assist homeless people Government announcements this week are positive, but any enhanced role for the English regulator should include looking at homelessness prevention work, argues David Bogle
The regulator’s role should be limited to dealing with systemic failures Julian Ashby suggests the Housing Ombudsman Service should deal with all complaints
The green paper shows ministers are in listening mode Despite some glaring omissions, the government appears to be in listening mode and it is important the sector takes advantage, argues Emma Maier
A short history of social housing league tables Attempts to create league tables for housing associations are nothing new. Mervyn Joneslooks at how they have worked in the past
League tables could prove blunt and counter-productive, sector warns Housing figures criticise government proposals to measure social landlords against performance indicators
Government 'must decide how proactive regulator should be' on consumer standards Ministers now face a dilemma over the regulator’s focus, sector figures say
The Green Paper: a golden opportunity missed? Melanie Rees assesses the Social Housing Green Paper against recommendations drawn up by the Chartered Institute of Housing and finds the government comes up short
Longer strategic partnerships and guranteed debt to boost social housebuilding The Social Housing Green Paper outlines key ways of boosting supply
The green paper is remarkable progress but it is still not enoughThe green paper suggests the government appears to be re-writing much of its policy since 2010, but more needs to be done, writes Jules Birch
Green paper marks a "milestone" on resident involvement The government’s recognition residents need clear information is to be welcomed, now it up to the sector to embrace tenant involvement, writes Paul Hackett
Ministers consider stock transfer programme to community-led associations The stock transfer programme could be revived under proposals in the housing green paper.
Access to housing grant could be tied to new league tables Grant could be awarded according to how well landlords meet performance indicators, the paper suggests
Ofsted-style regulation of tenant services proposed The government is considering expanding the Regulator for Social Housing’s remit to intervene over tenant services and give it a more “proactive approach to enforcement"
Government proposes dropping one-for-one Right to Buy replacement commitment A consultation paper published alongside the green paper proposes a broader measurement to replace the one-for-one pledge
A list of recent housing policy u-turns The green paper confirms yet more housing policy u-turns from the government, which has spent the last two years dropping policy ideas developed under the David Cameron government. Here is a rundown of the major changes in policy direction
Sector welcomes green paper but calls for more 'ambitious investment' Reaction to the proposals, from the National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing and more
Morning Briefing: reaction to Green Paper announcements how the media reported the proposals trailed by the government overnight
Government drops plans to force councils to sell higher-value stock The government drops plans to force councils to sell higher value homes
League tables and 'sharper teeth' for regulator in social housing green paper Ministers reveal some of the things in the paper ahead of its publication
Grenfell survivors: green paper does not go far enough survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have said the measures published in the Social Housing Green Paper do not do enough to rectify issues in the social housing sector.


  • New 'league tables' of housing providers based on key performance indicators, surrounding services such as repairs and neighbourhood management. This could be linked to housing grant.
  • Consideration to scrapping of the current 'serious detriment' test, to allow 'Ofsted-style' tougher consumer regulation
  • New home ownership options such as allowing tenants to buy as little as 1% of their property each year through shared ownership. This would only apply to new shared ownership purchases.
  • Ditching of plans to force social landlords to offer fixed term tenancies rather than lifetime tenancies in social housing
  • Ditching of plans to force councils to sell off their most valuable social housing when it becomes vacant
  • The potential introduction a new stock transfer programme from councils to 'community-led' housing associations
  • The return of guaranteed debt funding to help the development of affordable homes, and longer term 'strategic partnerships' for developing housing associations

Inside Housing - Insight - Social Housing Green Paper one week on: the debate rages

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