Written evidence submitted by Cornwall Council [RSH 058]
How widespread and serious are the concerns about the quality of social housing?
There are some concerns about the quality of social housing but locally the majority of stock is thought to be in good condition. There are known issues in some properties due to the refusal of access by the tenant to the property.
What is the impact on social housing providers’ resources, and therefore their ability to maintain and improve their housing stock, of the need to remediate building safety risks and retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient?
Refusal of access has an impact on resources given the need to keep a conversation going, wasted calls as the tenant refuses access to the property when visits have been programmed in. Repeated refusal of maintenance works can mean that when the property becomes vacant major works are required which increases the length of the void period and reduces rent received. There is a lack of knowledge about the benefits of energy efficient heating systems and many refuse retrofitting works as they are not convinced of the benefits and know what there current heating system costs them so prefer to stay with what they have. This is slowly changing as more works are undertaken locally but it is a slow process – and when works are programmed for a whole road/estate – refusals mean projects are less efficient/or more resources are taken up in convincing tenants to allow the works to go ahead
How clearly defined are the roles of the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman? Does the current regime allow tenants to effectively resolve issues?
No. The Housing ombudsman currently has issues with systems and capacity and is therefore not providing an effective resolution. The regular focusing on and reporting on complaint handling failure rather than service failure is driving the wrong behaviour. However, the ombudsman, we understand are trying to recruit people with repairs knowledge in order to better arbitrate on the complicated issues that can be about repairs issues. Residents expect for the ombudsman to examine their service failure complaint; to look at the relevant legislation and regulation as well as organisational policies and see if the judgement has been correctly made or applied fairly – and they expect it in a relatively timely manner. The ombudsman can tell us what action to take and include an order for compensation, this might include completing work or updating policies, and now they can report us to the regulator. This latter power is welcome as it is the only way the ombudsman has to address systemic service failures.
The regulator’s responsibility with regards to consumer regulation has been too curtailed and relied too heavily on co-regulation. When services are failing tenants, it can be because of ineffective business management, organisation and governance. Tenants have no redress when the ‘serious detriment test’ is the only opportunity for external intervention.
Should the Decent Homes Standard be amended to include energy efficiency and other means of mitigating climate change, and if so how?
Should all providers of social housing, not just councils, be required to register with the regulator?