Aim of partnership is to re-engage residents before homes are lost
Sovereign Network Group (SNG) is working with housing and homelessness charity Shelter on a new initiative to prevent avoidable evictions due to ‘non-engagement’ in social housing.
Shelter will support customers to re-engage with the housing provider with the aim of reducing avoidable evictions.
The partnership follows the publication of a 2021 Shelter report which cited ‘non-engagement’ as one of the leading cause of evictions from social housing.
The initiative, which when trialled in Devon proved so successful with more than 75% of people re-engaging, is now being rolled out across the South and South West of England.
As a result, SNG will be able to refer customers who live in these areas, and who choose not to engage, to Shelter.
As an independent, Shelter will work with both housing provider and tenant to build a positive relationship and support customers to re-engage. It will also help to resolve any disputes and ensure that both parties understand their rights and responsibilities.
While the specific strategies used by Shelter will vary depending on the local context and the needs of the customer involved, they will actively reach out to customers who have been hard to contact to make them aware of the full range of support available from the housing provider. This includes help finding employment, debt advice and details of grants which may be available.
Advisers will make contact using a variety of channels such as phone calls, emails, letters, and in-some cases home visits. Once referred, customers will have access to further resources including financial counselling and housing advice.
SNG say the goal of the new partnership is to create an environment where customers feel comfortable reengaging, leading to improved living conditions, increased tenant satisfaction, and ultimately, more stable tenancies.
Jon Cox, head of tenancy sustainment at SNG said: “We recognise that sometimes no matter how hard and sensitively we try customers may feel overwhelmed and unable to communicate with us when tenancy issues arise.
“As one of the first initiatives of its kind in the sector, this partnership will support our customers to live well and sustain their tenancy when they otherwise may not be able to.”
Stuart Francis-Dubois, strategic lead at Shelter said: “We’re delighted to announce our partnership with SNG, aimed at providing invaluable support to some of their tenants during their times of need.
“By offering free, independent legal advice, we want to help people navigate their housing challenges and ultimately preventing evictions. Together, we are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of SNG’s tenants.”
SNG is funding the partnership over a two-year period and expects to support approximately 150 people in the first year. Subject to this year one performance, SNG will then look at rolling out the service to other areas.
New figures released from the government reveal £1.7 billion has been spent by local councils on temporary accommodation for homeless households in England in between April 2022 and March 2023 – a 9% increase in spending from the year before and a 62% increase in the last five years.
One third of the total was spent on emergency B&Bs and hostels.
Planning permission granted for 102 social rent flats
Ealing Council has given the go ahead for a new women’s-only social housing tower block in the borough, close to Acton Town Underground station.
The 15-storey tower will replace the existing 1930s building, Brook House, located on Gunnersbury Lane. The original estate, which also included additional blocks made in the 1970s, is not suitable for refurbishment.
The approved plans will replace the existing buildings and 39 homes on site to create 102 social rent affordable flats for single women, particularly those who face inequality, abuse and disadvantages, especially in the housing market.
The application is supported by Women’s Pioneer Housing (WPH), who are only one of two such specialised housing associations in the country, and L&Q, one of the largest social housing provider in the UK.
The proposed new women’s-only flats, which will be for new tenants as well as existing ones wishing to return, will have dual aspect and a balcony. Works are expected to start on site this summer, with the design also including a range of recreational spaces for residents.
Women’s Pioneer Housing work closely with women’s refuges, homelessness agencies and women’s organisations to provide long-term safe, secure and affordable homes for women.
The organisation says the Brook House project comes amid rising levels of inequality for women in the UK, particularly those who are older, have a disability or are BAME women. Adding there is a huge existing demand for this type of housing; in Ealing alone there are over 600 single women on the social housing waiting list.
The scheme is brought forward with support from L&Q, through their initiative Build London Partnership (BLP), which seeks to find a tailored solution to London’s housing crisis.
Through the BLP, L&Q partners with smaller or specialised housing associations to work in collaboration to develop small, disused, infill and challenging sites across the capital.
WPH says this ‘helps unlock key sites in London and deliver much needed affordable and social housing, often for hard-to-reach communities’.
New rules form part of Bill to protect residents and raise standards in the sector
Social housing managers will now be required to hold an appropriate level housing management qualification to work in the sector.
The professional qualification will be regulated by Ofqual equivalent to a Level 4 or 5 Certificate or Diploma in Housing, or a foundation degree from the Chartered Institute of Housing.
Speaking about the new clause during the third reading of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill in the House of Commons, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Levelling Up) Dehenna Davison said: “Relevant staff who are not already qualified will have to enrol on and complete the appropriate qualification within a specified timescale, which will be set following consultation.”
The new rules, which will affect around 25,000 managers across the sector, will bring social housing more closely into line with other sectors providing front line services, including social work, teaching, and health and care services.
Any landlord who fails to meet the requirements of the new standards could receive an unlimited fine from the regulator.
Gavin Smart, CEO at Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “We welcome the government’s focus on and support for professionalism in housing.
“We believe housing professionals should do all they can to ensure that tenants and residents have access to good quality, affordable homes; that they are treated with dignity and respect; and that their voices and views are heard and taken account of in decisions that affect them, their homes and the communities they live in and that the vast majority of housing professionals and organisations share this belief.
“We look forward to working with government to support organisations and individuals in achieving the qualifications needed under these new requirements.”
The changes will be made through amendments to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill which will drive up standards in the sector and hold landlords to account over the service they provide to their tenants.
The Bill will also give the Regulator tougher new powers – allowing them to enter properties with only 48 hours’ notice and make emergency repairs with landlords footing the bill.
It follows Awaab’s Law, introduced earlier this year in the wake of the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, which will force social landlords to fix damp and mould within strict time limits.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy and, more recently, the death of Awaab Ishak showed the devastating consequences of residents inexcusably being let down by poor performing landlords who consistently failed to listen to them.
“We know that many social housing residents are not receiving the service or respect they deserve.
“The changes we are delivering will make sure social housing managers across the country have the right skills and experience to deliver an excellent service and drive up standards across the board.”
Access to Mayor Sadiq Khan’s social housing grant programmes could be denied to London housing associations if homes they manage fall into disrepair.
Speaking to Inside Housing, deputy mayor for housing Tom Copley said of the current state of disrepair: “It is appalling, and there’s no doubt the sector itself collectively has dropped the ball. They’ve not been as focused on management and standards as they should be.”
He added: “We recently wrote to all of our delivery partners to let them know we’re introducing new funding conditions in our programme relating to management standards.
“Any action we take will be proportionate, but we’re very, very clear with our partners that [funding being taken away] is a very, very real risk for them.”
Sadiq Khan’s Affordable Homes Programme 2021-2026 (AHP) has a £4bn budget, which the mayor has committed to maximising the number of new homes in London, over half of which will be at social rent.
Eligibility for the grant funding already includes mandatory design, building safety and sustainability standards which investment partners are required to self-certify compliance with in advance of receiving payments.
Among the conditions are stipulations for the installation of Automatic Fire Suppression Systems, including (but not limited to) sprinklers, and that no combustible materials may be used in the external walls of all homes and buildings, regardless of their height.
London housing associations, stock-holding local authorities and for-profit providers are all among those allocated money from the AHP grant scheme.
In the same interview, Mr Copley was asked about the balance between penalising landlords for maintenance issues with meeting housing targets:
“At the end of the day, we’re not a regulator. But we do, I think, have a responsibility, given that we fund these organisations, to take a firm line with them where they’re not maintaining their existing stock properly. And it’s absolutely right for that threat to be hanging over them if they don’t bring their standards up.”
Meanwhile, the Government has announced Awaab’s Law to force social landlords to fix damp and mould within strict time limits, in a new amendment to the Social Housing Regulation Bill.
The new legislation comes in the wake of the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, caused by the damp and mould in his home, which was managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.
The Government continues to block funding to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to build new homes until it can prove it is a responsible landlord.
A consultation will be launched later this year to set the timeframes within which landlords will have to act to investigate hazards and make repairs.
The new rules will form part of the tenancy agreement, so tenants can hold landlords to account by law if they fail to provide a decent home.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said: “Those landlords who continue to drag their feet over dangerous damp and mould will face the full force of the law.
“Our Social Housing Bill will enshrine tenants’ rights in law and strengthen the Housing Ombudsman and Regulator’s powers so that poor social landlords have nowhere to hide.
“Awaab’s Law will help to ensure that homes across the country are safe, decent and warm.”
The latest social housing resident survey of the Resident Voice Index (RVI) has looked into debt and how it is impacting the lives of people living in social housing amid the cost of living crisis.
The resulting report reveals levels of worrying, all or most of the time, about being able to meet normal monthly living expenses had increased to 78% from 68% in the six months since the first Cost of Living survey (March-May 2022).
The RVI project collects data on the requirements, feelings and perceptions of social housing residents and communicates these to the broader audience who may be able to make a difference.
5,719 UK social housing residents responded to the latest survey, the findings of which have been put together in ‘Cost of Living: Crunch Time’ – the second RVI report to focus on the cost of living crisis and its impact on UK social housing residents. The first was in June 2022.
Debt, and the worry surrounding it, were main factors in the survey’s findings with eight in ten of all respondents having debt. Of those with debt, 28% had four or more sources of debt, while 10% had six or more sources.
The sources of debt identified in the report show credit card debt was by far the most prevalent, with 41% of respondents selecting it. 24% had debt in the form of energy bill arrears, 22% selected debt to friend or family member. Also in the top ten sources of debt were water bill arrears, goods on finance, buy-now-pay-later, council tax arrears, overdraft, rent arrears and bank or building society loan.
The report identifies the quarter (24%) of respondents who were already in energy bill arrears as particularly concerning, as almost all respondents (97%) took the survey before the introduction of the October 2022 energy price cap hikes.
Data from Ofgem gathered in late October 2022 estimated that more than 2 million households were already in debt on electricity bills, representing over 8% of the UK’s households. The much higher rate of social housing residents reporting energy arrears in the survey is flagged as deep cause for concern.
Debt management and worry
The survey also looked at how people believed they were managing debt. One third of respondents (33%) were having difficulty (20.7%) or reported being unable to manage (12.7%) their debt.
Almost half (47%) were labelled as ‘managing’ their debt. However, a majority (36%) of those chose the option: ‘I have debt that I can manage, but it’s getting harder’.
Almost all (95%) of those who weren’t managing their debt reported being worried all or most of the time about meeting monthly living expenses. This compares with a much lower 69% amongst those who were coping with their debt. Both numbers are very high and the overall score for this high-level worry was 78% across all respondents.
Responses to the survey among residents who mentioned disabilities highlighted a recurrent concern that disability benefits, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are failing to cover the rising costs of fuel, food and other goods. When respondents were asked about any contributors to feelings of worry, 3.5% of answers made voluntary reference to disability.
The survey also asked respondents to rate their financial situation compared with six months ago, selecting either: ‘Better’, ‘The same’ or ‘Worse’. 69% indicated that their financial situation was worse and only 7% were able to commit to a better situation.
Gavin Smart, chief executive of Chartered Institute of Housing, said in the report: “This latest report from the Resident Voice Index comes at a critical time for the social housing sector.
“The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone but those on the lowest incomes, many of whom live in social housing, are impacted the most. These research findings shine a light on the devastating impact that cost pressures are having on residents every day across the country and are invaluable for organisations such as ours in raising awareness.
“The social housing sector is well placed to support people but we need to work together to highlight the support available and to call for policy change where it’s needed.”