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Photography Sophie Wedgwood

A new law is proposing unlimited fines for failing social landlords

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In a rare bit of good news for tenants, the Social Housing Bill, which is set to be published today, will give more power to the Regulator of Social Housing in an effort to crack down on shoddy landlords. The legislation will impact around four million people – the number of social housing tenants in the UK.

Under the new bill, landlords will be subject to ‘Ofsted-style’ inspections, and the length of time the regulator has to warn them about property inspections will be drastically cut from 28 days to just 48 hours. If the regulator finds that a tenant’s life is at risk, it will be able to order emergency repairs at the landlord’s expense.

The regulator will also be able to assess landlords on consumer standards, including on how they handle complaints.

The ‘serious detriment test’ will also be scrapped. In the past, this test made it difficult for the regulator to intervene on consumer issues and resulted in action being taken against landlords only in the most serious of cases.

All social landlords will also have to have a named person responsible for health and safety requirements, and the government will be looking into electrical safety standards within social housing to ensure tenant safety.

Housing associations will also be subject to a Freedom of Information-style information-sharing process.

On top of this, a new 250-person resident panel will be set up by the government and meet with ministers every four months to share their experiences and help shape social housing policy.

Persistently underperforming housing associations and councils will also be subject to unlimited fines, a powerful deterrent for those who fail to carry out basic repairs. Landlords that breach consumer standards or are served with a maladministration finding by the Housing Ombudsman will be named and shamed by the secretary of state.

Housing secretary Michael Gove has actually already publicly called out Clarion, the country’s largest housing association. In a statement, Gove said: “In 2022, it is disgraceful that anyone should live in damp, cold and unsafe homes, waiting months for repairs and being routinely ignored by their landlord. These new laws will end this injustice and ensure the regulator has strong new powers to take on rogue social landlords.”

These changes were first promised in the months after the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy, which killed 72 people and left hundreds without a home. Social housing standards have also been scrutinised in recent months thanks to the work of activists like Kwajo Tweneboa who document the appalling conditions tenants are forced to live in.