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The Social Housing White Paper: What you need to know about UK housing legislation

The Social Housing White Paper: What you need to know about UK housing legislation

Introduction

The Charter for Social Housing Residents, more commonly known as the Social Housing White Paper, lays out the UK government’s expectations for social housing landlords and its plans for regulating the sector. 

From ensuring tenants feel safe in their homes and get timely repairs to providing transparency into how landlords resolve complaints, these compulsory expectations are wide-ranging. Taken together, they aim to give social housing residents a voice and guarantee a high level of safety, security, and dignity.

In a sector that covers 4 million households across the UK, these regulatory measures will have sweeping impacts for both landlords and tenants.

Here, we break down the origins of the housing white paper, the essentials you need to know from the 76-page document, what this means for social housing legislation in the UK, and actionable measures you can take to ensure you’re meeting the requirements.

“I want housing associations and local councils to ensure that those who live in social housing are treated with dignity and respect. The interests and perspective of residents must be given greater prominence in service delivery. And when things go wrong, as they inevitably sometimes do, tenants should be able to seek redress and know that they will be heard.”

—  Rt. Hon. Robert Jenrick, former UK Secretary of State for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

 

First, a quick primer: 

What is social housing?

Social housing — sometimes called public housing or council housing — is housing that’s provided by not-for-profit housing associations or a local council. The method aims to offer housing that’s more affordable than private renting, and that provides more stable, quality-controlled, long-term tenancy.

Social housing in the UK initially began as houses and flats built on council estates that were managed by local authorities to offer reasonable rents for working-class people — often with amenities like schools and shops provided on-site. However, since the early 1980s, new social housing has been largely developed and managed by housing associations. 

 

What is the Social Housing White Paper?

The Social Housing White Paper is a document published by the UK Ministry of Housing,

Communities and Local Government which details the standards that every UK social housing tenant is entitled to expect from a landlord. The official title of the document is the The Charter for Social Housing Residents. 

The document is the culmination of a multi-year effort that began after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in West London.

Investigations into the fire showed gross long-term neglect. In response, the UK government introduced a Social Housing Green Paper and subsequent Call for Evidence into how the sector is regulated. 

The Green Paper, published in 2018, began looking at necessary changes to avoid similar tragedies in the future. It set out five core themes:

Ensure homes are safe and decent

Effective resolution for complaints

Empowering residents and strengthening the Regulator

Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities

Expanding supply and supporting home ownership

But even as some housing associations began making positive changes to support the tenant experience, there were still many safety complaints being filed as responses to the Call for Evidence. 

In 2020, the government published the Social Housing White Paper, which lays out policies to realign the relationship between social landlords and tenants. 

“This Charter for Social Housing Residents sets out to raise the standard of social housing and meet the aspirations of residents throughout the country, today and in the future.”

—  Rt. Hon. Robert Jenrick, former UK Secretary of State for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

In April 2022, the government announced further steps to meet the goals from the white paper. These include plans to create a new national resident panel, to name and shame landlords who fail to meet the standards being brought in under the Social Housing Regulation Bill, and to give the Regulator of Social Housing the power to introduce new tenant satisfaction measures.

 

Insight into the seven chapters of the Social Housing White Paper

The Social Housing White Paper comprises seven chapters that outline the different areas of regulation. In this section, we’ll dive into each chapter to cover the essentials of what you should know.

 

Chapter 1: To be safe in your home. 

This first chapter of the housing white paper addresses standards to help residents feel more safe and secure in their homes. 

Following the Grenfell tragedy, building safety continues to be a core concern among tenants, and the paper notes that the government has already made up to £400 million available to social sector landlords to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding of aluminium composite materials on residential social housing buildings. It has additionally published a Building Safety Bill, a Fire Safety Bill, and a Fire Safety Consultation, as well as supported a Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group.

Looking forward, the paper vows to legislate to explicitly include safety in the Regulator of Social Housing’s consumer regulation objectives and to require landlords to nominate someone who will be responsible for health and safety compliance. 

It will also seek to mandate smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and increase electrical safety, while supporting landlords to engage residents in building safety best practices.

 

Chapter 2: To know how your landlord is performing. 

This chapter states that tenants are entitled to information on how their landlord is performing, what decisions it’s making, and who’s responsible for these decisions. To these ends, the paper seeks to redress the imbalance of housing costs and executive pay through transparency and accountability. 

This will take the form of establishing a core set of tenant satisfaction measures, providing tenants with access to information related to their landlord’s management of social housing, requiring landlords to provide a clear breakdown of how they spend their income, and expecting landlords to report to all tenants on these matters at least once per year. 

Landlords must also appoint someone in their organisation to be responsible for ensuring consumer standard compliance.

 

Chapter 3: To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly. 

Since its creation in 1996, the Housing Ombudsman has been supporting the rights of residents to get swift and effective resolution without fear when they raise concerns. In 2022, the governmental body reported a 65% increase in resident complaints around repairs and maintenance. It recently updated its complaints-handling code, which should go into effect by October, and which landlords will be required to comply with.

So far, the government has already sped up access to the Housing Ombudsman, expanded its service, and increased its powers to take action against landlords where needed. 

From here, the housing white paper lays out that it will continue to streamline, support, and strengthen complaint handling, in part by running an awareness campaign to inform social housing residents of their rights.

 

HOW LOCALZ CAN HELP:

Localz plays a proactive role in helping landlords abide by UK housing legislation. Our day-of-service platform includes solutions that enhance communication around service appointments and quickly alert landlords to poor feedback, allowing them to promptly resolve issues before they escalate to complaints.

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Chapter 4: To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator for tenants. 

Although there has been regulation since the 1970s to support the expansion of housing associations, the housing white paper asserts that it hasn’t been strong enough to ensure landlords will deliver on the new charter expectations.

To right the imbalance, the government is seeking to establish a new consumer regulation function within the Regulator of Social Housing that’s proactive and holds all landlords to account for the services they deliver. 

This new function will include:

  • Retaining co-regulation, maintaining robust economic regulation, and strengthening the Regulator’s enforcement powers
  • Removing the “serious detriment test” and the cap on fines the Regulator can issue to failing landlords
  • Requiring landlords to nominate a person responsible for health and safety compliance
  • Implementing requirements such as reporting on tenant satisfaction measures, engaging in routine inspections — every four years for landlords with 1,000+ homes — and implementing policies to tackle topics like tenant engagement and domestic abuse
  • Holding local authorities, arms-length management organisations, and tenant management organisations accountable

“We’re leveling up this country, making it fairer for everyone — and that includes making sure social housing tenants are treated with the respect they deserve.”

— Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson, UK MP Prime Minister

 

Chapter 5: To have your voice heard by your landlord.

This chapter lays out how the Regulator will require landlords to review their current training and development, seek out new best practices, and consider how they can continuously improve tenant engagement and empower residents to hold them accountable.

As the pandemic greatly affected many people’s physical and mental health, Chapter 5 also focuses on ensuring landlords help residents tackle loneliness, both by supporting their most vulnerable residents and by encouraging community engagement and meaningful social relationships.

 

HOW LOCALZ CAN HELP:

Localz helps housing associations deliver on the high standard of customer service required by social housing legislation in the UK. Our platform offers effective engagement tools like instant feedback collection post-appointment, which is the best way to let tenants know their voice is important and to determine if your services are meeting their expectations. 

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Chapter 6: To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in. 

Even before the pandemic caused delays in repairs and maintenance, UK social housing had many issues with poor neighbourhood management, upkeep of buildings, and the quality of shared spaces. 

This chapter of the Social Housing White Paper pledges to review the Decent Homes Standard, including how it can better support decarbonisation and energy efficiency and improve communal and green spaces. 

Well-being is a big focus here; there will be new expectations of landlords to implement measures that support positive mental and physical health. This may include everything from making a property more accessible for those with mobility issues to allowing for pets.

Additionally, the charter aims to ensure that housing is allocated fairly, and to support the Armed Forces community as well as tenants facing domestic abuse, anti-social behaviour, and crime by clarifying the responsibilities of police, local authorities, and landlords.

 

Chapter 7: To be supported to take your first step to ownership.

The final chapter of the housing white paper centres on increasing the supply of affordable homes and redesigning the shared ownership model to be fairer, more consumer-friendly, and more accessible. 

To these ends, the new Affordable Homes Programme will deliver up to 180,000 homes, with half available for Social and Affordable Rent, and the remainder for affordable homeowners. 

Meanwhile, the new Shared Ownership model will lower the minimum initial ownership stake from 25% to 10% and will allow purchasers to then buy further shares in smaller instalments of as little as 1%. 

Landlords will be required to comply with a 10-year “repair-free” period, during which they cover the costs of major repairs for new homes.

 

How does the white paper affect operations for the social housing sector?

As you’ve seen, the Social Housing White Paper and related UK housing legislation will have a big impact on operations in the social housing sector.

The formal standards will regulate housing associations and landlords to be transparent about their performance and decision-making, to empower tenants to hold them to account, to right wrongs, and to listen to tenants through effective engagement.

Social housing professionals are already stretched thin thanks to pandemic-related staffing shortages and repair and maintenance backlogs. The Social Housing White Paper, and the new regulations which stem from it, create additional stress for these teams. 

In response to these challenges, many landlords are undertaking digital transformation efforts. Digital tools such as customer engagement software can help landlords maintain compliance by improving tenant satisfaction, making service appointments more efficient, reducing incoming call volume, and simplifying record-keeping. 

 

How does Localz help landlords with UK housing legislation?

Localz’ customer engagement software helps social housing landlords throughout the UK meet the expectations laid out in the Social Housing White Paper by improving tenant satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Our modules, which can be integrated into online tenant portals or used as standalone solutions, enable landlords to give tenants options like:

  • Live tracking of field service technician location 
  • Automated appointment reminders
  • Self-service appointment scheduling
  • Two-way communication with technicians
  • Instant feedback prompts 

Our platform is built to create genuine engagement and trust between tenants and landlords. By offering transparency around service appointments and responding immediately to negative feedback, landlords can meaningfully improve tenant satisfaction rates. 

Localz also helps landlords track key KPIs to ensure they’re performing on the metrics that matter. 

Talk to Localz about last-mile delivery and service delivery tracking

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