Members of the Clarion branch of SHAC are working with Siobhain McDonagh MP and Kwajo Tweneboa to explore the possibility of a new Housing Inspectorate. The discussion will launch at the group’s next meeting at 6pm on Monday 21st February.
The Old Regime
The housing inspection regime resided with the Housing Corporation until around 2011, and was briefly moved to the Audit Commission before being abolished by Grant Shapps who was Local Government Minister at the time.
The reason given for the abolition was that government was “slashing red tape and putting councillors and communities in control of their local areas”. The slashing of ‘red tape’ simply meant that landlords subject to the inspection regime became less accountable. Community control of local housing has never been achieved.
Some believe that had the Housing Inspectorate been in place, tragedies such as the Grenfell fire which cost at least 77 lives, and the squalid conditions highlighted by ITV News Stories may have been avoided.
Higlighting Squalid Conditions
Campaigners experiencing squalid housing conditions, impenetrable barriers when they try to complain, out of control service charging, and other forms of landlord abuse believe that a new Housing Inspectorate could help end the neglect, exploitation and mistreatment of tenants.
Kwajo Tweneboa will be speaking at the SHAC@Clarion meeting. He became a housing campaigner when his father was dying of cancer and the family were living with mice, cockroaches and mould. Appeals to their landlord, Clarion, fell on deaf ears (more here).
Kwajo’s story hit the headlines and led to further bad press when ITN News got involved. They exposed similar conditions across the whole of the Eastfields Estate in Mitcham (more here).
The story was particularly shocking because the estate housed around 500 properties. But appalling disrepair is all too common, and can be found across the UK in homes owned by housing associations.
Following the news coverage, the Regulator of Social Housing was widely criticised for maintaining Clarion’s top governance rating despite the conditions Kwajo and many others were left to endure.
One specific criticism was that regulatory staff had not spoken to residents directly in reaching their decision. However, the government’s Regulatory Framework makes little provision for direct engagement. The Regulator and Ombudsman do not allow staff to intervene proactively or visit complainants’ properties. The organisations are directed by government not tenants and residents.
Discussion on using a Private Members’ Bill to build the case for a new housing inspectorate emerged from a meeting between Siobhain McDonagh MP and SHAC. It is one of a number of proposals under consideration.
A Tenants’ Housing Inspectorate?
The abolition of the Housing Inspectorate undermined some of the safeguards that protected people in their homes. It placed housing out of sync with other sectors. The controversial Ofsted inspectorate visits schools and nurseries to ensure that safety and other standards are met. The Care Quality Commission has a more positive reputation for fulfilling the same role in care homes. In the housing sector by contrast, regulatory bodies largely rely on the information provided to them directly by the landlord.
But there is scope to aim for something far more visionary. In Scandanavia for example, the Swedish Union of Tenants is a democratic body set up “to ensure the right to good housing at an affordable and fair rent, to guarantee security of tenure and to provide a sense of community.” (more here). It is not an advisory body, but one with the power to negotiate and reach binding decisions.
An independent organisation operating under the democratic direction of tenants and residents, with the necessary skilled staff to assess the condition of properties, and with the power to order remedial action rather than just levying inconsequential fines – that would be a good place to start the discussion on what form any new inspectorate should take.
4 February 2022
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.