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In the line of fire: Is your board ready for the new Social Housing Act?

David Levenson explores one of his Ten Steps to Become a High Performing Board:
MAKING A DIFFERENCE – getting beyond the boardroom
The New European

The Social Housing (Regulation) Act has finally received Royal Assent (July 20th).

David Levenson

It is over six years since the tragedy of the Grenfell House fire in West London which resulted in the tragic death of 79 people, and two-and-a-half years since the appalling death of two-year old Awaab Ishak from severe respiratory problems resulting from damp and mouldy conditions in his family’s home. Now Michael Gove and the DLUHC have finally got round to introducing tougher enforcement measures on landlords responsible for failing residents by making them live in damp, cold and unsafe homes. Awaab’s Law will mandate housing providers to fix reported health and safety hazards such as damp and mould in “a timely fashion” and require them to move residents out of unsafe homes. An amendment sponsored by former Prime Minister Theresa May will require social housing managers to acquire a professional qualification, putting them on a par with health and social care workers who serve the country’s citizens. The idea of professionalising the housing sector was first mooted in report from the Better Social Housing Review, co-sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing and National Housing Federation earlier this year.

The Social Housing Act is buttressed by the recently introduced consumer regulation standards which incorporate the twenty-two Tenant Satisfaction Measures upon which all providers must report by 1st April 2024. Meanwhile the Building Safety Act which hit the statute books in April 2022 now has its own set of regulations for what are termed “high risk” residential buildings (over 18 metres or 7 storeys in height) aimed at giving greater protection to residents from fire risks in both the social and private landlord sectors.  The Housing Ombudsman, who has been calling out some of the largest housing associations with severe maladministration notices in recent years, is rewarded with extra powers as well.

Co-regulation raised the bar for boards
Housing association boards already had plenty on their agendas to think about. Some years ago, co-regulation became a major talking point in housing. Boards are expected to participate by regulating themselves while the RSH has become more reactive and “light touch”. The new consumer regulatory standards have layered on the requirement to involve residents in the co-regulatory framework, who can scrutinise their landlords’ performance.

I am willing to predict that the next train coming down the regulatory track for boards will be the introduction of Well-Led reviews as part of the In Depth Assessment (IDA) process, similar to the approach by the Care Quality Commission towards governing bodies in NHS organisations, which are designed to provide assurance that they are delivering high-quality and person-centred care. Could this now be the direction of travel for social housing boards?

Boards will have to provide evidence that they are well led which among other things means that board evaluations, otherwise known as board effectiveness reviews, need to be taken more seriously and become more outcomes focused.

Board members need to learn how and when to “lean in”
In my previous article for the HE newsletter, “Crossing the Line”, I set out ten rules for non-executive board members venturing into management and process-level issues. There is a clear expectation now from the RSH and Ombudsman for boards to prove that they are well led, by demonstrating board members are listening clearly to front line staff, allowing them space and freedom to speak up when things aren’t working. This is not to give board members carte blanche to interfere in operational details which many still do, especially once they have felt the cold blast of regulatory or ombudsman intervention upon them.

High performing boards need to know how and when to lean in and stand back, at one and the same time. For board members to make a difference, they need to be prepared to get themselves out and go beyond the boardroom.

David Levenson is a housing non-executive director, boardroom coach and advisor, and governance trainer. 

David is the creator of Board Measures™ an outcomes focused system for Measuring Board Effectiveness.    He has devised a framework for great governance called Ten Steps to Become a High Performing Board©.           

For more information, contact David on LinkedIn:  here

David Levenson©

July 2023

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