Date: 29/01/2019

Five months on from the publication of the Social Housing Green Paper, Fortem continues to consider what it and other housing service providers can do to support our clients and their communities

In a recent article in Inside Housing, my colleague Mick Williamson wrote about the Social Housing Green Paper and how it presents a clear opportunity for housing service providers – such as Fortem – to do more to support our clients and their communities.

We have continued to explore our thinking around the Green Paper and its potential implications. A key part of this was sponsoring a round table discussion on the proposed review of the Decent Homes Standard with colleagues from across the housing sector, at the recent Homes event in London.

It’s time to wake up on the Decent Homes Standard

Geoff Parkinson, Director of Business Solutions

The DHS focuses on six ‘key’ components within a property and little else. Home exteriors and the wider estate environments are not considered as ‘key’ and have often been left to decay.

What needs to change?

There were several elements picked out in our discussions. The main ones were:

  • One size of DHS does not fit all homes and uses. Is it right to just have one standard? Homes need to perform differently according to tenant needs and different regulations should apply to different residential schemes
  • An updated DHS should place much greater emphasis on energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty
  • Communal areas are not addressed in the current DHS. An updated standard should cover these areas and, specifically, issues such as lifts, responsibilities to prevent legionella, management of aluminium composite materials, and conducting and acting on regular Fire Risk Assessments
  • Leaseholder responsibilities must be reasonable but fulfilled where required to ensure whole building safety

Participants broadened out discussions and highlighted several other important issues that should also be considered by the government if it updates the DHS.

Compliance with the DHS is no longer a key performance measure in organisational governance. Therefore, a new asset condition rating must quickly be developed to raise standards.

The current DHS was last updated in 2006 – it now fails to meet the demands of modern-day living. The DHS should require provision for digital connectivity. This is something that private tenants take for granted.

It is now unlawful for the private sector to rent a property in Energy Performance Certificate band E or poorer; however, these laws do not yet apply to social housing. It was the consensus of participants that we should be leading the wider housing sector not following it. The social housing sector should simply not have any band E properties – those that exist should be removed, demolished, sold or taken out of lease until improved.

In addition, the current DHS fails to address the external appearance of properties and their surrounding external communal areas. This element is especially important to consider in social homes – sometimes more so than in the private sector, due to the stigma that the Green Paper heard social tenants often experience.

And finally, a new DHS that reflects practical changes, advanced adaptations and safety-related issues is needed. Crucially, it must acknowledge the cost implications of the measures it includes and allow landlords time and, where necessary, support to deliver.

The prize will be more integrated communities and increased trust between the government, landlords and tenants. This has to be a prize worth working hard to win.