07 Jan 2021
Well, one thing is for sure, 2020 is a year that will live long in the memory. But as 2021 beckons, it is a great time to look ahead what might await. COVID-19 will still be with us of course, but with effective vaccines on the way, the virus will hopefully move into the background of our lives rather than being the focus.
As the vaccines are rolled out to older people and those with ‘pre-existing conditions’ first, there might well be a role for housing providers who provide extra care, older people’s housing and supported living, in supporting their tenants and residents with receiving the vaccine. For example, ensuring that residents receive both doses. With the renewed national lockdown there will clearly be a role for landlords in continuing to support tenants and residents who are shielding or need additional support.
Then of course, as the roll out continues, housing providers’ staff will be vaccinated so plans and decisions will need to be made about when and how we return to offices and other workplaces safely. And perhaps, whether we return at all. Nick Atkin has written for Inside Housing about some of changes he foresees as a result of the pandemic and the move to home-working. The ‘genie is out of the bottle’ and will not be going back in any time soon. The possibilities for working from home, from hubs, from our estates and the possibility of ‘collaborative hubs’ have the potential to revolutionise the way we provide services. That said, it's also vital that we don’t lose the connection with one another that an office can provide. We also need to ensure that we remain tenant focused and recognise the needs of tenants in terms of accessing services – what’s good for the organisation might not be best for them.
There’s something to be said for the face-to-face, that can’t be replicated or replaced by Teams or Zoom – indeed Zoom-fatigue is a very real thing for some.
We may well also return to conferencing the old-fashioned way, although maybe not quite as before. Perhaps the day long conferences and training courses will be less frequent and conducted online, while the larger ‘set-piece’ conferences like Housing remain. Like the office, there is something to be said for a large conference that can’t be replicated online.
The Social Housing White Paper will also clearly be a major issue this year. It has the potential to transform the social housing landscape. It covers topics as wide (but interrelated) as safety, complaints, transparency and regulation. Landlords should have already completed an assessment against the complaints handling code, published it and be preparing to implement their revised processes.
The white paper also gives some heavy hints on the new measures on tenant satisfaction and financial viability. Although the measures contained in the white paper are ‘draft’ and it will ultimately be the regulator that decides on the new measures, it's reasonable to assume that they will likely be very similar. It would be a wise idea for landlords to begin putting structures in place to be able to report on the new measures.
Regulation will also be more pro-active. The 'serious detriment’ test will be removed to enable this more proactive approach to ‘consumer regulation’ of the sector. If you have over 1000 properties, you should expect to be inspected at least once every four years. The good news is that the consumer standards have been published for some time on the government website and the regulator will be publishing a code of guidance to set out what they expect. The new regulatory structure will be ‘risk based’ and from the white paper it seems likely that the desktop reviews of providers will inform which organisations are subject to full inspections. You should therefore dedicate time and resources to meeting, and showing that you are meeting, the consumer standards.
During January and February CIH is hosting a series of weekly webinars, with our policy team and industry experts, to help you find your way through the white paper. The topics and dates are:
14 January - Complaints
21 January - Quality of homes and neighbourhoods
28 January - Safety in homes
4 February - Consumer regulation
11 February - Engagement with tenants and residents
18 February - Landlord performance
25 February Home ownership
The government is likely to be pre-occupied with the implementation of Brexit and the pandemic for the next few months and having announced the affordable homes programme and white paper at the end of 2020, there will be some space in the first half of 2021 for us to start to really get to grips with the white paper and its implications. We have an opportunity to shape our approach over the next few months and how we do this will have implications for years to come – so let's make the most of it.
Yoric Irving-Clarke a policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing. He leads on homelessness and domestic abuse in the CIH policy team. Yoric is a chartered CIH member.