Consumer regulation: ready or not?
Top tips for preparing your organisation for changes to consumer regulation
Director, Campbell Tickell
Director, Campbell Tickell
Issue 66 | June 2023
We’d love to be able to say that the new regulatory emphasis on putting tenants at the heart of what social landlords do is simply a reflection of what already happens. In some local authorities and housing associations this is true – in fact many go far beyond what is likely to be required by the new consumer standards.
But sadly we all know that for some people living in social housing, the experience is not as it should be. And if we weren’t sure before, the tragic death of Awaab Ishak should have convinced any doubters.
The reasons for this have already been the subject of much debate. But no doubt a political and regulatory environment which primarily focused on financial viability and growth played a part. So too, the ease with which it is possible to overlook and undervalue the voices of customers who are too often stigmatised.
What’s apparent is that there is a valuable opportunity – right here, right now – to correct course where needed and capitalise on sector-wide learning. At Campbell Tickell, we work with clients who are tackling the challenge of becoming more customer-centric, attentive, values-driven organisations with energy, enthusiasm and pace. The best are doing it in partnership with their tenants, as well as seeking out learning from their peer group and other specialists.
The associated challenges play out differently in different sectors. Local authorities we work with are grappling with how to overcome systemic challenges relating to resources and capacity, and to manage relative priorities across the breadth of local strategy and service delivery. The changes to regulation will mean councils needing to build a new relationship with the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) and a deeper understanding of its expectations.
“Of 24 regulatory notices for local authorities, 22 involved health and safety failings.”
Lessons from experience
Analysis of the current and withdrawn regulatory notices served to local authorities suggests clear areas of risk: all have involved a breach of the Home Standard. Of 24 regulatory notices for local authorities, 22 involved health and safety failings.
Some of the main themes drawn from the reports include:
- poor systems and data;
- a lack of planned programming of safety checks;
- a lack of follow-up on remedial actions;
- the discovery of an issue in one area of safety checks leading to an investigation that uncovered more.
These regulatory issues, of course, are those that have breached the ‘serious detriment’ test – a high bar that will be withdrawn under the new regulatory regime.
Follow the evidence
Like their housing association counterparts, councils are continuing to develop their risk management and assurance frameworks. We see a huge diversity of approach, but the best ones enable social landlords to understand at a glance the core areas where they most require assurance, and what the strength of the various sources available to them is. For some councils, this is simply a matter of collating what is already there. For others, a considerable amount of work must be done to identify assurance needs, scope and commission the work required, map insight, understand gaps and plan improvements.
The Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs) recently launched by the regulator offer one such source of assurance, of course. But they are only one part of the puzzle. The RSH has been clear that it considers the TSMs to be just one of many lenses through which landlords should understand their performance.
We would correspondingly urge local authorities to interpret the new measures alongside other sources of assurance, building a rounded and holistic understanding of service provision and customer experience. The ability to triangulate multiple sources of evidence is particularly important when data quality and integrity remain a challenge for many social landlords, making it sometimes hard to rely on single sources of insight.
“The RSH has been clear that it considers the TSMs to be just one of many lenses through which landlords should understand their performance.”
From challenge to opportunities
There are exciting opportunities ahead to improve services and standards for tenants, support the strengthening of their collective voice and influence, and raise the profile and reputation of social housing. Our top tips are:
Take stock right now. While it is important to prepare for forthcoming changes to regulation, we don’t know enough of the detail yet to be certain of future expectations. What you can most usefully do right now, is ensure that you understand how far you comply with the current regulatory standards. Testing this, and testing it hard, is as good a preparation as you can make for the new consumer regulation regime.
Identify and own the gaps. Use (or build) your assurance framework to identify gaps in evidence and weaknesses in performance. Acknowledge these openly and in a constructive way, avoiding blame and encouraging a sense of opportunity and excitement about driving change. This must be led from the top, with elected members and executive directors willing to hear about and own problems and co-create solutions. Having a clear plan of action for improvement where it is needed will help tenants, staff and the regulator feel confident that the organisation is on the right track.
Think beyond compliance. Regulatory standards are a baseline of good practice, so don't confine your ambition to doing the bare minimum required for compliance – although it’s a good place to start. The best organisations stretch themselves to exceed the standards, and ask themselves challenging questions in the process.
Don’t lose sight of values. It can be easy to focus on the detailed requirements of the regulatory standards at the expense of applying overarching principles and values to the delivery of services. We know that diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect matter to local authorities, and they matter to the RSH too. Getting into the habit of relentlessly and persistently testing decisions and plans through the prism of these values is important if they are to be embedded in the delivery culture.
We’re thoroughly enjoying talking to elected members, staff and tenants about the opportunities and challenges presented to local authorities by changing consumer regulation. If you’d like to discuss this with us, please get in touch.