Calls have been made for a new regulator to oversee councils with housing stock either kept in-house or handed over to arm’s-length management companies.
In an interview with LGC, National Federation of Almos managing director Eamon McGoldrick said he had been talking to civil servants about the possibility of creating a “light touch” regulator or ombudsman to oversee the sector.
All social housing providers in England are required to be registered with the Regulator of Social Housing, which used to be part of the former Homes & Communities Agency before it became Homes England, including those whose stock is managed by an almo or a tenant management organisation.
However, in a document restating its responsibilities published in April, the regulator said: “We only use our regulatory and enforcement powers where we judge that there has been a breach of a consumer standard which has caused or could cause serious detriment.”
In 2016-17, the regulator received 532 consumer referrals. Of these, 217 (41%) were passed onto the regulator’s consumer regulation panel, 105 (20%) were investigated further, and it found breach and serious detriment in seven cases (1%).
Mr McGoldrick said most serious detriment cases relate to missed gas servicing and “a few for fire safety”.
“About 55-60% of the socially rented housing stock is managed by housing associations, but 100% of the failings on public record are through housing associations. That doesn’t seem right,” said Mr McGoldrick. “There must be boroughs and almos that are not up to speed with their gas servicing.
“If you are a housing association you will tell the regulator you have fallen behind with gas servicing because if you don’t and the regulator finds out you will get downgraded… which in turn impacts on their ability to borrow.”
There is no similar impact on councils or almos.
In February, former housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid mooted creating a housing ombudsman position to help tenants and homeowners resolve disputes with landlords and builders.
Mr McGoldrick said the NFA is preparing for proposals for a new regulator or ombudsman to form part of the social housing green paper, due this summer.
He said: “We are preparing ourselves for more regulation, particularly around resident engagement and complaints and redress and alike…
“Local authorities and almos feel very much outside of regulation. Housing associations know there is a regulator around but I don’t think local authorities do.”
Mr McGoldrick said he did not want to return to the “full blown Audit Commission days” but said something “lighter touch who residents and others can go to” if they feel their concerns are not being heard or acted on would be welcomed.
He said: “We would welcome something that brings back the best bits of the Audit Commission whereas local authorities who didn’t have almos wouldn’t have necessarily experienced that and the benefits it can bring.”
Should a regulator be concerned it could send “a couple of seasoned professionals” in to a housing provider to see if there are any obvious problems.
The process could also include all housing providers producing annual reports which include customer satisfaction scores and other data about their activities to address problems, said Mr McGoldrick.