The Charter for Social Housing Residents: Strengthening consultation commitments or re-treading old ground?
The Grenfell Tower disaster has had significant impacts across society. It has lead to widespread debate on reforming various aspects across safety, building regulations and what approach the Government should take to homes and habitation. The latest expression of this is the Government’s new White Paper ‘The Charter for Social Housing Residents’, which looks to establish a set of basic rights and expectations for those living in social housing in England.
The paper lays out seven expectations, which it says should be available to all people living in social housing, and the measures that the Government will implement to ensure that they are met by social housing landlords. The expectations cover a wide range of matters, from safety concerns to quality, from reporting to progression to home-ownership for tenants. They also include potentially significant provisions on ensuring that the voices of tenants are heard by landlords.
These latter provisions are contained in chapter 5, where the White Paper details their expectations that landlords should seek out best practice and consider how to better engage with their tenants, that tenants should have a wider range of tools to influence their landlords and hold them to account and to ensure that landlords have professional training and development to ensure a high level of customer service.
The astute will notice that these provisions are largely focussed around engagement, rather than consultation, and this could be an important distinction. Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is that consultation is generally legally enforceable, whereas engagement is usually not.
It is a key difference. There are already provisions in place that mandate consultation between certain categories of landlords (notably including private registered providers of social housing and registered social landlords) and their residents, primarily in the Housing Act 1985 at s.105. It was these provisions that came under scrutiny in the Bokrosova case in 2015 which lead to the overturning of a Council consultation which stopped consulting on certain options.
What precise changes the Government means to make are not extensively detailed in the White Paper, and other than fairly vague expressions of desire, it is not yet clear how they intend to enforce (if they do at all) the new engagement obligations. For our part, we will continue to go through the paper and come up with some further thoughts.