Don’t fear the regulator
Learnings from the early consumer inspection pilots
Policy and Performance Senior Specialist, Folkestone & Hythe District Council
Issue 66 | June 2023
Here is a question I hear a lot: “How do we prepare for new consumer regulation?” My answer? Be honest. Really. Honest self-assessment is the key to understanding how prepared we are for the challenges ahead and the first step towards successful co-regulation. And when I say ‘we’ I mean we as a sector.
A work in progress
As anyone working in the housing sector will tell you, improving social housing will always be a work in progress. We are all at different stages along our own path, and the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) will be looking to see how well we know our own data and how equipped we are to meet those challenges, year after year.
To paraphrase the author Ryan Holiday, from his book on Stoic Philosophy, instead of seeing our work (and the new consumer standards) as an end to which one aspires, see it as something one applies.
So, what can we expect from the new inspection regime?
- A desktop data finding exercise, for sure. The RSH’s Scoping Framework will tell us what we need to provide, and it may be different for local authorities than it is for housing associations.
- Interviews with key stakeholders. Make sure your CEOs, board members, councillors and engaged tenants are briefed on the new standards and the work you are doing.
- Site visits. An estate, a sheltered housing scheme, attendance at one or more meetings where performance is discussed (particularly tenant groups).
- Scoring or grading. The pilots weren’t graded, but the assessments probably will be. Start looking at how well you think you meet the standards now and score yourself.
How can we prepare?
- Understand your journey, be honest about your shortcomings and be clear about your future ambitions.
- Be realistic about what you hope to achieve and not too much ‘pie in the sky’ (a vision statement is good, but it is more about your progress on the ground).
- Enlist the help of someone to independently validate your performance and audit your work. Ask your tenant group to review this.
Help the regulator by helping yourself
Part of the new regulation is aimed at aligning what we do, so we start doing more things in a consistent way. If we begin to work in similar ways, then as a sector we have a golden opportunity to work more closely together than we ever have before.
So, use the connections you have, share good practice and benchmark your performance with others. Don’t wait for the RSH to tell you if you are compliant. Start testing yourself right now and make the regulator’s job easier.
What have the early pilots taught us?
The RSH is not to be feared, but this is no time to be complacent either. The regulator does not expect us to be perfect or 100% compliant on everything all the time, or to have achieved all our corporate ambitions. They do, however, expect us to be organised, transparent and clear about where we are and the direction in which we are heading.
It is important for us to remember that when we consider our own journey: that one never arrives. The perfect housing service – like the perfect work of art or philosophy – is an ideal, not an end.
“The regulator does not expect us to be perfect or 100% compliant on everything all the time, or to have achieved all our corporate ambitions.”