18 Aug 2021

Regulatory focus – lessons learned

Good governance is more important than ever for registered providers (RPs) of social housing. We have seen increased diversification within the sector, particularly in light of the rent cuts, with more RPs undertaking a wider range of activities beyond “core” social housing, within more complex operating structures. There are also significant competing strategic priorities and demands, including the building and fire safety and decarbonisation agendas, which RPs are having to balance against finite resources. Robust governance arrangements are essential to ensure that RPs can continue to meet regulatory obligations and deliver safe and effective services to residents.

We are also facing significant change to how RPs are regulated in the wake of the Social Housing White Paper, with proposed changes to remove the serious detriment test and reshape the consumer standards, with a greater focus on transparency with, and accountability to, residents.

Recently, I was pleased to interview Mick Warner, former director of special projects at the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), about the work he had done prior to leaving the RSH last year in preparing the latest iteration of the RSH’s “Learning from problem cases” publication. The last volume (volume 4) was issued in June 2015 and it’s safe to say that the sector has moved on significantly in that period, in the face of challenges such as the rent cuts and changes such as deregulation.

In our podcast, I spoke to Mick about some of the themes he’d seen emerging from his work in looking at problem cases as part of the upcoming RSH report and also in his time since leaving the RSH while acting as a consultant in the sector. We explored some key themes, such as:

  • How the co-regulatory settlement works in practice, including how to work positively with the RSH if issues are discovered
  • The need to remain agile and move with the times. As part of this we discussed the need to review the effectiveness of governance arrangements and looking closely at board renewal and succession (particularly in light of the six-year maximum tenure requirements under the National Housing Federation Code of Governance), and the relationship between the board and the executive team
  • Culture and the hallmarks of a positive (and negative) culture, particularly in relation to a willingness to challenge and review within an organisation, and
  • How boards should manage risks and what can undermine good board assurance.

We also discussed the upcoming revised approach to consumer regulation and significant areas of focus for RPs over the next twelve months.

Although this is likely to be a significant period of change for many RPs, I have been delighted to see many of the housing associations I work with being willing and eager to embrace this challenge. This is particularly the case in relation to issues such as being more representative from the perspective of equality, diversity and inclusion and also better hearing the resident voice. We expect the RSH’s “problem cases” report to be issued next month. The social housing sector has shown itself time and time again to be one which is willing to innovate to overcome issues, and I fully expect RPs to be up for the challenge of learning from these problem cases and continually improving.

Written by Gemma Bell

Gemma Bell is a partner and the head of the housing corporate and governance team within the social housing sector at leading law firm, Penningtons Manches Cooper. She has significant experience of delivering a wide range of guidance on regulatory and charity law issues and specialises in advising housing associations on large and frequently innovative corporate projects. Gemma is also a CIH member.

Find out more about Gemma