Written evidence submitted by the Guinness Partnership [RSH 107]
1.1. The Guinness Partnership is a 64,000-home housing association delivering housing and care services to 140,000 residents across England. We were founded in 1890 to improve people’s lives and create possibilities for them. That mission continues today.
1.2. Our vision is for Guinness to:
1.3. We are passionate about what we do and believe strongly in the positive role social housing plays in improving lives. We plan to deliver 5,500 new homes, including 5,000 affordable homes, by March 2025.
1.4. In 2020 / 21, we started 1,349 new homes and completed over 500. We also invested £118m in maintaining, repairing and improving our existing homes.
2.1. Guinness welcomes the opportunity to respond to this important inquiry.
2.2. The work that Guinness and other housing associations do in providing affordable homes to people that need them plays a hugely significant role in our society. A good quality, secure, and affordable home is a bedrock on which to build the rest of your life. There is extraordinary demand for our homes and services, and we are committed to ensuring they are high quality. Beyond this, we also strive to be more than just a landlord by providing a range of additional services aimed at providing extra support and opportunities to both our own residents and other members of our communities.
2.3. Recent media coverage has, however, shone a light on some examples of poor quality and practice in social housing. They have brought shame on our sector and seeing them has been both heart-breaking and embarrassing. We strongly believe that where we have not met our own high standards our residents should have the information and tools they need to hold us to account. As such, we firmly support measures set out in the Social Housing Green and White Papers which are based on extensive resident consultation and feedback. We hope that this inquiry will urge the Government to bring forward legislation to enable the new consumer regulation regime as swiftly as possible.
2.4. The key points of our response include:
2.5. We hope our response will prove useful to the Committee and would welcome the opportunity to discuss any of our answers in more detail including through oral evidence.
Response to specific questions
3.1. Guinness believes that social housing should be delivered and maintained to a high standard. It is deeply distressing to have seen examples in the media of homes from any social housing provider that have failed in this regard, including some from Guinness.
3.2. Despite these failures, the overall prevalence of poor conditions and poor quality in the social housing sector is low compared with other tenures. A social home is more likely than any other tenure to meet the Decent Homes Standard (DHS). In 2019, 13% of homes in the social housing sector failed to meet the DHS compared to 21% in the private rented sector and 16% of owner-occupied homes. At Guinness 99.95% of our homes currently meet the DHS.
3.3. A social home is also more likely to be energy efficient with 66% rated EPC A to C compared to 42% of private rented sector and owner-occupied homes. Over 78% of Guinness’s homes are already rated EPC A to C and our ambition is for as many as practicable to have reached EPC C by 2030.
3.4. Guinness has invested £488.5m in maintaining and improving our existing homes over the last five years. We will continue to invest significant sums in our homes over the coming years to ensure they are high quality and safe.
3.5. The quality of a home can also refer to factors behind the fabric of the building or the components within it. For example, we know overcrowding is a significant problem with 8% of social homes being classified as overcrowded. This issue is primarily driven by a long-term failure to deliver the number of new social homes that are needed.
4.1. The most likely impact is that in the medium to longer-term Guinness will build fewer new homes in order to prioritise spending on building safety, decarbonisation and delivering good quality services.
4.2. Guinness has set aside £100 million for investment in building safety over five years, with £19 million spent last year and a further £12 million so far this year. In addition, our analysis which was supported by the consultancy Savills, estimated that we will need to spend at least £1.56 billion by 2050 on retrofitting our homes to meet net zero requirements. We also expect to need to invest in making our homes resilient to climate change, but have not so far quantified that.
4.3. This level of investment is not unique to Guinness. The Regulator of Social Housing’s latest risk profile shows that providers plan to increase spending on existing homes by 12% over the next five-years. The National Housing Federation and Savills have suggested that to reach net zero housing associations will need to spend at least an additional £36 billion on top of existing investment plans.
4.4. We are already committed – through our strategic partnerships with Homes England and the Greater London Authority – to building 5,500 new homes by 2025. Beyond that, we have recently committed to extending our Homes England partnership through which, along with our partner Stonewater, we will deliver 4,180 affordable homes by 2029.
4.5. However, it is inevitable that financial capacity that we use now and over the coming years on building safety and decarbonisation is capacity that cannot be recovered. Unlike with new homes, spending on existing homes does not generate additional income or financial capacity. We use that capacity for the internal subsidy that is required on top of Social Housing Grant rates to build new homes. We recognise the vital importance of demonstrating value to the taxpayer of investment in new homes, and that other sources of funding mean taxpayers’ money goes further. However, ultimately we must choose how to deploy our capacity. Given the absolute priorities of building safety, decarbonisation and delivering high quality services, it seems inevitable that although we will continue to build new homes, we will not be able to build as many in the medium to longer-term as we otherwise could.
5.1. The regime has ensured that the Private Registered Provider sector as a whole is well governed, and that individual failures are identified and addressed. The Regulator’s approach to identifying and managing risks, and setting of expectations (for example, through Codes of Practice and its Regulating the Standards documents), as well as its engagement with the sector, works well to ensure that providers are clear about regulatory expectations.
5.2. Enabling the Regulator to take a proactive approach to consumer regulation will strengthen the regime, to the benefit of residents and the whole sector. The Regulator has helpfully been very clear that providers should not wait for legislation and amended standards to prepare for the enhanced consumer regulation regime.
5.3. When we consulted with Guinness residents on the Social Housing Green Paper, they supported a stronger and more visible Regulator taking a more proactive approach to consumer regulation alongside an enhanced role for the Ombudsman. They also supported more use of data to trigger reactive engagement by the Regulator. Some changes have already taken place, and some will come via the new consumer regulation regime. We believe this inquiry should urge the Government to introduce the new regime as soon as it is practicable.
5.4. Notwithstanding that, it should be noted that the existing regulatory system has functioned well most of the time. Guinness has engaged with the Regulator on queries in relation to the Consumer Standards. It is appropriate that from our perspective, this has always felt like a robust and evidence-driven process. The Consumer Regulation Review shows that the Regulator received nearly 600 consumer standard referrals in each of the last two years.
5.5. However, the new approach should be more visible to sector stakeholders and provide greater opportunity for residents to hold their landlords to account.
6.1. They are clear to us. The Ombudsman plays an important role in ensuring individual residents have access to a free and impartial dispute resolution service while the Regulator ensures that Registered Providers comply with Regulatory Standards and the sector can deliver homes that meet a range of needs. It is important the Regulator and Ombudsman work closely together (for example through the Ombudsman sharing information with the Regulator where the number or nature of cases the Ombudsman sees give rise to concern about systemic performance of an RP) and welcome the Social Housing White Paper confirmation that new legislation will be introduced to ensure this.
6.2. In common with other RPs, we include information on our website to help residents understand the distinct roles of the Ombudsman and Regulator, and thereby help them choose which to approach.
6.3. The recent work of the Ombudsman on issues such as damp and mould has been positive to see. Through it we have seen that as well as supporting and resolving problems for individual residents, it can apply learnings from individual cases to produce valuable insight to the sector. Guinness welcomes this approach.
7.1. On balance, yes, but we must continue listening to our residents’ views on this and making changes as required.
7.2. Guinness complies with all legal, regulatory and contractual requirements, as well as those set out in the Ombudsman’s Complaints Handling Code. When we make mistakes, as inevitably sometimes does happen, we strive to resolve issues and complaints in an open and transparent way, operating always with fairness, impartiality, objectivity and professionalism.
7.3. We work with our residents to resolve and remedy complaints in a number of ways. They include putting the problem right by completing works, action plans, changing a decision, amending records, changing policies, procedures or practices and offering compensation. We have a positive complaint handling culture and use learning from complaints directly to change our working practices and so improve our services.
7.4. In all correspondence with residents relating to complaints we make it clear that the Ombudsman can be approached if a resolution cannot be found, or the resident is unhappy. We also make this clear on our website.
7.5. From 2,878 complaints we handled from April to November 2021, 28 (0.9%) were determined by the Housing Ombudsman. Of those, three were outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to investigate, two resulted in a finding by the Ombudsman of “maladministration”, 12 were found to be “service failures” and 11 were determined by the Ombudsman to have been dealt with satisfactorily by Guinness. We are committed to improving our focus on resolving issues quickly and effectively, avoiding repeat failures and demonstrating and sharing lessons learnt from complaints and determinations from the Housing Ombudsman both among operational colleagues and to the Executive Team and the Board.
7.6. The new Complaint Handling Code and the National Housing Federation’s Together with Tenants Charter – which we were an early adopter of – have helped provide greater clarity to residents on what they should expect from their landlord. Through those documents and our own processes, residents have clear routes through which to raise concerns, make complaints and seek redress and support.
7.7. At Guinness, this is further supported by the Tenant Scrutiny Panel which we introduced in February 2021. Comprised of 12 residents from across the country, the panel independently scrutinises Guinness’s services. Their first scrutiny review looked at our complaints system and produced an action plan that we are in the process of delivering against.
7.8. There remain further improvements that can be made to the existing system that would streamline it, and potentially enable residents to resolve issues faster. For example, the removal of the democratic filter, as proposed in the Social Housing Green Paper and confirmed in the Social Housing White Paper, is something we support. However, the removal of the filter will not improve the nature of resolution for residents only the speed at which said resolution might be reached.
8.1. Yes, although our answer is given from the perspective of a Private Registered Provider.
8.2. It is clear that the Regulator can take action where it concludes that providers are not meeting its Standards in terms of governance, financial viability or consumer standards. These powers include deregistering providers if necessary. However, use of them has been extremely rare – most issues of compliance with Regulatory Standards have been resolved without resort to them, through improvement in the Provider or by another provider stepping in (particularly where the critical issue is liquidity / financial capacity). The sector clearly understands that the Regulator must prioritise deployment of its resources proportionately to the risks it sees. The Ombudsman is equipped with powers to require members of its scheme, which includes all Registered Providers, to pay compensation where failings have been identified and / or enforce the completion of works should that be relevant to the complaint.
9.1. Guinness supports the changes being proposed in the Social Housing White Paper and believes they will add to the existing regulatory system.
9.2. Progress in bringing forward the necessary primary legislation to fully implement the changes the White Paper proposed has been slow. The Regulator’s recent publication of its proposed new standard Tenant Satisfaction Measures is a welcome step and Guinness will be responding to the consultation.
9.3. In the meantime, housing associations – including Guinness – have taken a proactive approach to preparing for the new regime and adopting some measures in advance using the White Paper as a guide. For Guinness this proactive approach has included:
10.1. Guinness has engaged in the review of the DHS currently being conducted by the Decent Homes Review Sounding Board.
10.2. We responded to each call for evidence on the ‘case for change’ element of the first phase of the review and have identified a number of specific areas in which we believe changes to the DHS would be valuable, such as:
10.3. We believe that phase 2 of the current review, which is currently under consideration, should happen.
10.4. More broadly we believe that a more strategic approach is needed within the DHS, however, this should not be seen as a criticism of its achievements or value since its introduction. Rather, as we look back over the 20 years since the first DHS came into effect, we can see that there was potential for it to lead to a focus on compliance (e.g. replacement of outdated components) over delivering outcomes that residents may have wanted. The new DHS can take this learning and ensure that moving forward such an approach is not an option.
10.5. A further learning we can take from the DHS is that the period between reviews – and assuming a similar period moving forwards – means that flexibility is an important element to expand. For example, as technology evolves it will be important that an outdated approach to issues like efficient heating is not accidentally introduced because of a lack of flexibility and adaptability.
11.1. Guinness’s response to the call for evidence on the case for change to Criterion (d) of the DHS focused in part on the interaction between energy efficiency, climate change mitigation and the DHS.
11.2. In general, it is our view that there are valuable changes that can be made to the DHS around energy efficiency – for example introducing requirements for a home to be able to be heated affordably. However, when it comes to climate change mitigation, we believe that this may be better dealt with outside of the DHS given the role that the DHS exists to do.
11.3. For example, if the DHS were to incorporate a new requirement to prioritise low-carbon heating sources then this could create a challenge for residents in terms of heating costs given that electric heating sources are currently more expensive than gas. Given the focus of the DHS is on the individual this could be problematic as increasing their energy costs may conflict with the provision of a home that is – for that individual – decent.
11.4. However, Guinness firmly supports the drive to achieve net zero. We are strongly committed to playing our part in this agenda and plan to spend significant sums decarbonising and retrofitting our homes. In addition, we believe that more targets and more measures to help direct and track activity by housing associations is important, we just do not believe that the DHS is the best location for this and that specific strategies are more suitable.
11.5. If the decision is taken that decarbonisation and other elements of tackling climate change should be incorporated into the DHS, then we believe it is important to do this in a way that reflects the fact that this is an area where technology is still maturing. The DHS would have to ensure flexibility through a focus on outcomes rather than by providing a prescriptive list of actions that should be taken.
11.6. Energy efficiency, on the other hand, is clearly an area where improvement can have a direct benefit to residents in the form of lower heating costs, warmer homes etc. and as such fits clearly into the DHS. Amendments to the DHS that ensured homes are capable of being safely, efficiently and affordably heated would be sensible and we hope they will be looked at in more detail by the DHS Review Sounding Board in the coming months.
12.1. To ensure that social housing provision is always high quality and that Registered Providers are well governed and financially stable it is important providers are registered with the Regulator. Ultimately this ensures protection and consistency for all social housing residents, and gives lenders / investors an appropriate confidence that assets will be well managed so their investment, which is used to build new homes, is reasonably safe.
12.2. However, it would be challenging to extend social housing registration to all landlords who house tenants whose rent is paid through benefits, for at least three reasons: First, Universal Credit means it is no longer automatic that landlords will know the source of their tenants’ rent payments. Second, for very small landlords to operate within the RSH regulation system may be a burden that is too big for their operation to bear. It is not clear what the consequences of that would be. And third, it would imply significantly greater regulatory resources to provide a level of assurance of compliance that matches tenant (and stakeholder) expectations.
13.1. Our view is that the diversification challenge is one of regulatory resources and skills to ensure compliance with a common set of standards that residents and stakeholders should expect to be met under different business and governance models, and statute, rather than a challenge to the regulatory system itself.
 DLUHC, ‘English Housing Survey: Headline Report, 2020 -21’, (2021)
 The Guinness Partnership, ‘Financial Statements 2020/21’, (2021)
 DLUHC, ‘English Housing Survey: Headline Report, 2020 -21’, (2021)
 Regulator of Social Housing, ‘Sector risk profile 2021’, (2021)
 Savills, ‘Decarbonising the housing association sector: costs and funding options’, (2021)
 See Consumer Regulation Reviews: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/consumer-regulation-review-2020-to-2021