27 Jul 2022

Homelessness and the regulation of social housing - could housing associations be doing more?

The Homes for Cathy group sees the housing and support of homeless people and households as central to the role of social housing providers. Formed in 2016 at the fiftieth anniversary of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home drama documentary and now numbering over 100 housing association and housing charity members, Homes for Cathy worked with Crisis to develop the nine Homes for Cathy Commitments which challenge housing providers to demonstrate their social impact by reviewing and extending their work to house and support homeless people.

But we now need to go further. The 'Everyone In' initiative showed what could be done with wider collaboration across the sectors and the Kerslake Commission has sought to capture the achievements of that period to achieve lasting and effective solutions for rough sleepers. But the numbers of rough sleepers and households in temporary accommodation remain high.

On the basis of 'what get measured gets done', the next step is to ensure that the regulation of social housing supports housing providers to make an impact on homelessness. This already happens in Scotland where the Scottish Regulator requires housing associations to report each year on their work to house and support homeless people and households.

The Social Housing Regulation Bill which is currently before Parliament provides a welcome opportunity to not only ensure that the provision of housing and support of homeless people and homeless households is recognised as an important consumer regulation objective but also to allow the Regulator of Social Housing to have a role in monitoring the work of registered providers in working with local government and other stakeholders to alleviate homelessness.

As currently drafted, the Social Housing Regulation Bill will ensure that registered providers provide safe, well-managed, quality homes and that tenants have the opportunity to be involved in the management of those homes and can hold their landlords to account. But these important landlord responsibilities must continue to go hand in hand with duties to accommodate and support homeless people and households and not be seen by social landlords as an opportunity to cut back on this vital work or, worse still, to only house 'compliant' tenants who will give them a good landlord rating to show the Regulator.

The recent report on the Regulation of Social Housing by the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee (13 July 2022) raises suggestions that some providers have moved away from their social objectives. The proposed Homes for Cathy amendments to the Bill give the Regulator of Social Housing a specific role to set standards for the work of registered providers to accommodate and support people who are, have been or may become homeless. This should ensure that the Boards of housing associations maintain an appropriate focus on homelessness activities in their organisation and monitor information on lettings to homeless households, evictions, tenancy sustainment work etc.

The Homes for Cathy group will be promoting the proposed amendments to the social housing sector, to the trade and professional bodies, to local and central Government and, of course, to MPs and members of the House of Lords over the coming weeks. We are convinced that this relatively minor addition to the role of the Regulator of Social Housing could focus housing providers on their key role in reducing homelessness and make a real difference to the lives of the children and families in temporary accommodation and rough sleepers.

The Homes for Cathy group would like CIH to publicly support them in their campaign calling for the regulation of housing associations contributions to preventing homelessness. As a membership organisation, CIH would welcome your views on this. We are hosting a member round table to discuss this in more detail on Tuesday 6 September at 2pm. If you would like to attend, please email policyandpractice@cih.org. We would also welcome your feedback to our questionnaire on the topic which you can access here.

Written by David Bogle

David Bogle is the chair of Homes for Cathy and chief executive of Hightown Housing Association.