Delayed since Spring 2020 as the Government tackled the Covid-19 crisis, Tuesday 17 November saw the publication of the Social Housing White Paper, setting out the future regulation of the social housing sector.

In this ebriefing, I have set out the key proposals and issues that social housing providers will need to consider from a Construction perspective together with some thoughts from my colleague Tim Coolican setting out the related Health and Regulatory concerns.

The White Paper does not introduce any new construction or maintenance obligations for providers. Instead, it provides a summary of the wider regulatory changes that have been introduced by the Government, including:

• The Building Safety Bill;
• The Fire Safety Bill; and
• A consultation on extending the requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

There is also an indication that the Government will consult on further measures to ensure electrical safety standards are met, indicating a likely extension of mandatory 5-year electrical safety checks already imposed on the private rented sector.

Providers will already be considering how best to prepare for the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill becoming law, and those preparations should continue.

However, the White Paper makes clear that safety will be given increased regulatory scrutiny with the promise of legislation to include an explicit obligation to ensure residents’ safety within the Regulator of Social Housing’s Consumer Standards. The consequences of this change are considered in more detail in section 4 below. The Regulator will be supported in scrutinising the safety performance of providers through the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Building Safety Regulator, to ensure the effective sharing of concerns and evidence of safety-related failings.

The key message from the White Paper, within a maintenance and construction context, therefore is not that providers need to do more than they are already doing but simply that the consequences of failing to discharge their regulatory obligations are likely to be much more severe. With this in mind, providers should continue to prepare for the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill, with a view to these areas being subject to increased scrutiny moving forwards.

The White Paper also introduces further “roles” to which providers must appoint a suitably competent and experienced person:

• A nominated person responsible for compliance with health and safety requirements; and
• A person responsible for ensuring compliance with the Consumer Standards (which will also include safety).

The proposed responsibilities of those roles include a welcome emphasis upon promoting a positive safety culture, with a need to ensure visible support for safety issues from senior management alongside effective engagement with residents and the employees engaged in providing safe services and homes.

However, the creation of additional safety-related roles and positions will need to be managed carefully. One of the criticisms of the present Fire Safety regime is that confusion over roles and responsibilities can result in a lack of action. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order places duties on the “Responsible Person” as well as any other persons with an element of control or responsibility for fire safety compliance, and the Building Safety Bill in its current form requires an “Accountable Person” and a “Building Safety Manager” to be appointed. The cross over between the roles outlined in each piece of legislation is not clear and the uncertainty as to how each role should interact with the others at present risks miscommunication and confusion, which may undermine one of the key aims of the reforms in the Paper – resident safety.

To see our full ebriefing setting out additional perspectives from our Housing Management, Housing Litigation, Governance and Commercial and Regulatory teams, please see our full ebriefing here.