This Month In Social Housing: September 2023

Another month has come and gone and as the leaves turn to brown and the nights slowly but surely begin to draw in, it’s time for us to take a look a back on the major developments that have occurred in the world of social housing. If you’ve been a bit too bust to keep fully abreast of what’s been happening in the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ sector in which we operate then fear not as September’s edition of This Month In Social Housing is here yet again to bring you up to speed with five of the biggest news stories from the past 30 days…

Rayner On For Nandy in Shadow Cabinet Substitution

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party and MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, has replaced Lisa Nandy as shadow housing secretary. Nandy, who had had held the role since November 2021, vacates the position to become the shadow cabinet minister for international development, with the reshuffle seen as strategic moves by Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, to solidify his leadership team ahead of the impending general election. Rayner’s new role encompasses responsibilities related to Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, signifying a shift in Labour’s focus and priorities in these areas. She will remain the party’s deputy leader and will also take on the new role of shadow deputy prime minister.

12-Month Interest Cover at Lowest Level Since Records Began

The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has reported its lowest-ever interest cover in its latest quarterly survey on the housing sector’s financial health for the period of April to June this year. Interest cover, excluding sales, hit 78%, expected to rise slightly to 83% by June 2023. Social housing providers are struggling to balance maintaining existing properties and constructing new ones amid economic challenges. Cash balances have dwindled to an eight-year low at £123.9 billion, but coupled with undrawn facilities, they can cover projected expenditures for the coming year. Providers invested £3.7 billion in new homes during the quarter, 24% below expectations, indicating an investment backlog. Operational issues, like land acquisition delays and contractor insolvencies, contributed to expenses falling short of forecasts. However, spending on repairs and maintenance reached a record high of £1.8 billion in the quarter. RSH highlighted the challenges faced by social housing providers, including financial pressures, investment backlogs, and the need for strong financial performance to provide quality homes and services for tenants.

Labour Says Commitment to Restoring Social Housing is Now “Long-Term Aspiration”

The Labour Party’s commitment to making social housing the second-largest tenure has been labelled a “long-term aspiration” after it was conspicuously absent from the party’s National Policy Forum (NPF) document ahead of their annual conference. The pledge, initially made by former shadow housing minister Lisa Nandy in 2022, aimed to surpass the private rented sector by building a substantial number of council homes. However, the NPF document did not mention this commitment, leading to criticism and concerns about Labour’s housing policy direction. A Labour spokesperson responded by affirming the party’s commitment to increasing social and affordable homes, promising to provide more detailed plans as the general election approaches. The document did however emphasise the importance of affordable housing and standards improvement in the housing sector, as well as supporting councils without housing stock to start building homes and promoting co-operative and community-led housing provision.

RSH to Carry Out National Tenant Survey to Scrutinise Landlords’ TSM Data

The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has announced plans to conduct a National Tenant Survey to gauge tenant satisfaction with their landlords’ services. This survey, in addition to social landlords’ own surveys for the recently implemented Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs) using the same questions, will serve as an independent benchmark and assist the RSH in scrutinising data submitted by landlords. Social landlords, including housing associations and councils, are already required to collect TSMs from their tenants. These measures, part of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act enacted in July, aim to revamp social housing regulation following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017. The RSH published a set of 22 TSMs in September last year, covering themes like repairs, building safety, complaint-handling, tenant engagement, and neighborhood management. The National Tenant Survey will aid in comprehending satisfaction levels across the sector and enhance scrutiny of landlord-submitted responses. The RSH is currently in the procurement process to select a supplier for the survey.

NHF Hits Out at Sunak’s Energy Efficiency U-Turn

The Prime Minister has abandoned plans to enforce Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings of ‘C’ for new private rental properties by 2025 and all private rental sector (PRS) properties by 2028. In a speech from Downing Street outlining a new approach to achieving net zero, Rishi Sunak cited concerns that some property owners would face costly upgrades within two years. The move has sparked criticism from the National Housing Federation (NHF), which called on the government to honor its £3.6 billion funding promise for net-zero efforts. Kate Henderson, the NHF’s CEO, expressed disappointment in the government’s retreat from net-zero commitments: “England’s homes are among the oldest and draughtiest in Europe. Making homes more energy efficient is a win-win, not only helping to save our planet, but also boosting our economy by creating jobs and, crucially, saving money. Our research found that retrofitting homes would save social housing residents on average 40% on heating bills. Scrapping targets on this could lead to people facing higher bills for years to come.”             

Well, that’s the news done and dusted for another month. We’re all off to see if we can remember where we put the leaf blower in the garage last summer and have a serious think about swapping the duvet to ‘big quilt’. Once we’ve done that though we’ll be back here at the same time next month to do this whole ‘handy news round-up’ thing again (albeit slightly chillier, no doubt). Until then though, Sayōnara

Dean Quinn
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