Written evidence submitted by Grenfell United [RSH 108]



  1. We would like to thank the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Commons Select Committee (‘the Committee’) for inviting submissions to its inquiry into the regulation of social housing.[1] As you may be aware, Grenfell United (‘GU’) was formed in the aftermath of the terrible events that took place at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, with a membership comprised entirely of bereaved and survivors from the fire. Our aim is to search for the truth of what happened at Grenfell, to obtain justice, and to advocate for the implementation of meaningful change so that a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again.


  1. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s terms of reference include an examination of the arrangements between the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (‘RBKC’), and its housing manager, the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (‘KCTMO’), which have largely been the subject of module 3 of the public inquiry.[2] The Inquiry’s terms of reference do not, however, include wider issues relating to social housing policy. To address these broader questions, the Government launched a Green Paper in August 2018,[3] followed by the publication of the White Paper in November 2020.[4] As the Prime Minister makes clear in his foreword to the White Paper, “the people who called Grenfell Tower their home were […] no strangers to going unheard”.[5] It was the events at Grenfell that drew the Government’s attention to the need to reform the regulation of social housing.


  1. As part of our role in advocating for meaningful change on the issues that affected us, as bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, we have met with senior civil servants and officials from what is now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (‘DLUHC’). Many of the regulatory reforms that GU pressed for have been included in the White Paper, which we remain optimistic will make a real difference to improve standards in the social housing sector and the lives of tenants across the country. But there remain important areas in which the Government has either not gone far enough, or on which they remain silent. These areas are developed in our submissions below, which we encourage the Committee to pursue as lines of inquiry.


  1. The Grenfell community has waited almost five years to see meaningful change in this area, and it still remains unclear as to whether it will, after all this time, be delivered. Survivors and bereaved cannot wait indefinitely to see the change we were promised. There are concrete steps the Government could take right now – which are outlined below in the body of our submissions – to begin delivering on this. We need to see this meaningful change delivered as soon as possible.


  1. These submissions to the Committee are grounded in our experiences as former residents of Grenfell Tower. Prior to the fire we were ignored, mistreated and victimised by our landlord and their managing agent. We hope that the work of the Committee in undertaking this inquiry assists the Government to develop a regulatory system that ensures that no other community suffers at the hands of a dysfunctional and vindictive landlord and management organisation in the way that we have.


  1. We address a number of the key questions identified by the Committee in turn below.





  1. Is the current regime for regulation social housing fit for purpose, does the current regime allow tenants to effectively resolve issues, and do the regulator and ombudsman have sufficient powers to take action against providers?


7.1.      The Grenfell Tower fire itself is the clearest demonstration of the fact that the current regulatory regime for social housing is not fit for purpose. It was this system that permitted our landlord and their managing agent to marginalise and belittle residents. By ignoring our concerns and complaints about a range of issues, including fire safety, RBKC and KCTMO’s actions helped cause the fire at Grenfell Tower. The regulatory system of social housing enabled both of these parties to do this. Wholesale change to this regime is therefore required, long overdue, and cannot remain unaddressed.


  1. Will the reforms proposed in the social housing White Paper improve the regime and what progress has been made on implementing those reforms?


8.1.      GU has identified four areas in which the regulatory regime must be urgently reformed. These areas are interconnected, and while all four are touched on by the proposals in the White Paper, more must be done in order to deliver on the Government’s stated objectives to “raise the standard of social housing” and ensure that “those who live in social housing and treated with dignity and respect”.[6]


      1. Regulation

The ‘serious detriment test’

8.2.      We welcome long overdue reforms to the Regulator of Social Housing (‘RSH’) so that in future it will properly consider ‘consumer’ matters, such as safety, transparency and accountability.[7] The removal of the ‘serious detriment test – which operates on an extremely high threshold and all but guarantees that what little investigations the RSH is able to undertake on ‘consumer’ issues is reactive[8] is an indispensable cornerstone to reforming the system. It would give the RSH the opportunity to properly investigate matters of real concern to tenants about their way their homes are managed, including around safety, transparency, service quality, engagement and accountability, neighbourhood and tenancies,[9] and to do so without having to wait for tenants to suffer at the hands of rogue landlords before involving themselves.


8.3.      The Green Paper has demonstrated the consensus across the sector demanding the ‘serious detriment’ test’s removal.[10] The Government simply needs to get on with making this change, and GU is deeply concerned that ministers appears to be dragging their feet. The Government has stated publicly in the White Paper that it will legislate to remove the test as soon as parliamentary time allows.[11] But ministers could act now by introducing clauses to the Building Safety Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, to remove the test. We understand that this legislation is already broad, but given that the ‘democratic filter’ has rightly been included in the Building Safety Bill,[12] we see no reason why removing the ‘serious detriment’ test could not be included in it also. This change would give the RSH powers to proactively enforce consumer standards by the end of next year, by which point bereaved and survivors from the Grenfell Tower fire will have marked the five year anniversary since the fire.


8.4.      Without such steps being taken now, we are concerned that the removal of the ‘serious detriment’ test will be delayed until unspecified future legislation to social housing regulation, which, even if it is introduced in the next session of Parliament at the earliest, could take a significant period of time to formulate given the broader regulatory reforms that are likely to be included as part of it. We urge the Committee, therefore, to press the Government on the need to legislate to remove the ‘serious detriment’ test as part of the Building Safety Bill in this parliamentary session in order to avoid further unjustifiable delays to reforms to the regulatory system.


The inspection regime and enforcement powers

8.5.      The removal of the ‘serious detriment test is an essential pre-requisite to the RSH proactively regulating ‘consumer’ standards, but this will only be effective if it is combined with an inspection regime that allows the RSH to properly identify issues, including those raised by residents. The White Paper has outlined that the RSH will be expected to introduce a system of routine inspections, to undertake specific reactive investigations and to publish its findings, but that it will be up to the RSH to “decide the most appropriate approach” to do so, including regarding “the likely notice periods involved.[13] GU submits that while the proposals offer a step in the right direction, inspections should operate on a similar basis to Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission: social housing landlords should be given limited notice that an inspection is to be carried out. If such measures are deemed appropriate for schools, hospitals and social care, then they should be deemed appropriate for housing, given the scale of the disrepair problems across the country.[14] Our experience of RBKC and KCTMO is that, if allowed too long to prepare, social housing landlords would no doubt develop their own systems to present their performance in an unduly favourable light. The inspection regime must not allow landlords to do this and must instead allow nowhere for rogue landlords to hide.


8.6.      The results of the RSH’s recent investigation into Clarion’s management of the Eastfield Estate, Merton, demonstrate the farcical nature of the RSH’s current remit, in that it can obtain evidence from social housing landlords as part of any investigation, but not from the tenants on the receiving end of the landlords’ mistreatment.[15] This must end, and residents must be allowed to play a pro-active, partnership role in the regulatory regime (see below section on tenants’ voice). The RSH must also be given sufficient resourcing by the government to undertake regular and effective site inspections.


8.7.      In 2016 the KCTMO undertook its own internal review into the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower; they did not speak to residents as part of that review, and it resulted in a whitewash in which the KCTMO exonerated its own conduct and that of its main contractor, Rydon.[16] The review was a missed opportunity to address residents’ concerns around a range of issues, including fire safety. Grenfell residents were instead at the mercy of a rogue landlord, underpinned by a regulatory system that enabled them to mark their own homework and act with impunity. A regime of regular, well-resourced, intrusive, and limited notice inspections would have helped protect the residents of Grenfell Tower, just as it would have the residents of the Eastfield Estate in Merton.


8.8.      The White Paper rightly acknowledges that the SHR requires greater enforcement powers to underpin its role in upholding consumer standards, and states ministers will introduce published Performance Improvement Plans for failing landlords, reduce survey notice periods, allow the SHR to arrange for repairs, and remove the cap on the fines the SHR can issue.[17] GU welcomes these measures, and underlines that the SHR must be given significant powers to fine social housing providers in breach of consumer standards as it currently is for those in breach of the economic standards. Further, the SHR should introduce consumer ratings for social housing providers –similar to the ratings it provides in respect of governance and financial viability – and should have the power to downgrade the status of any social housing provider that is failing to meet the required ‘consumer’ standards. Downgrades should be accompanied by intrusive investigations by the SHR and other serious measures to disincentivise poor performance. This would enable the SHR to identify and root out social housing providers that were failing in their duties to deliver adequate services to residents.





Tenant Satisfaction measures


8.9.      The Government has rightly recognised that the current system allows landlords to avoid proper scrutiny by residents as it does not require the publication of standardised ‘tenant satisfaction measures’, which the White Paper has sought to resolve.[18] KCTMO’s Key Performance Indicators (‘KPIs’) did not cover resident satisfaction[19] and omitted significant issues in their entirety.[20] Moreover, even had this not been the case, residents would not have had any confidence in them had they have not been standardised and enabled residents to properly compare their performance to other landlords. GU therefore welcomes these proposals, and insists that this system is introduced as soon as possible. Residents, however, must have a proactive role in setting and monitoring these measures (see below section on Tenants’ voice).


  1. Complaints


8.10.  GU supports the proposals to remove the ‘democratic filter’ from the complaints process[21] and to expand the Housing Ombudsman’s (‘HO’) funding with the aim of halving decision times by March 2022,[22] as the current system is too slow.


8.11.  Importantly, at present too few residents are aware of their rights regarding landlords’ complaints process or the role of the HO and the SHR, and such publicity campaigns are as essential as they are overdue.[23] We note the White Paper refers to an “awareness campaign”, which the government says it will launch “so social housing residents know their rights.[24] We therefore welcome the new HO complaint handling code which recommends landlords display information regarding their complaints process and the role of the HO on social media, leaflets, newsletters, online, and as part of any correspondence with residents.[25] Our understanding,  however, is that only extremely limited amounts of funding has been allocated by central government to promote access to and knowledge of the complaints system and the HO, and we suggest the Committee challenges the government to do far more in this regard.


8.12.  The White Paper also envisages “stronger co-operation” between the SHR and the HO based on statutory duties of mutual co-operation.[26] In order to identify systemic issues that arise are brought to the attention of the RSH, we consider it vital that specific statutory thresholds requiring mandatory referrals from the HO to the RSH are introduced. This would ensure the closer co-operation between the HO and the RSH envisaged in the White Paper, and give residents greater confidence that systemic issues picked up by the HO will be investigated by the SHR.


  1. Tenants’ voice


8.13.  The White Paper offers plenty of warm words regarding tenants’ voice around “ongoing ministerial engagementon the subject and a resident “empowerment programme. But despite the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement that social housing tenants, including those at Grenfell Tower, were “no strangers to their voices going unheard”,[27] the White Paper fails to offer anything of substance on which GU takes assurance.[28] Importantly, the proposed reforms miss a vital opportunity to embed the voices and experiences of tenants themselves within the regulatory framework.


8.14.  Prior to the Grenfell Tower fire, Grenfell residents lacked the support of a national tenants’ organisation to provide them with both practical support regarding the issues we faced with RBKC and KCTMO, but also the knowledge that there was an organisation at the heart of the system that had their interests alone at heart, exerting influence over social housing landlords and the regulatory system as a whole.


8.15.  In order to address this and substantiate ministers’ stated commitment to giving social housing tenants a greater voice, the Government should therefore without delay assist the establishment of a members’ led, democratically mandated, national tenants’ voice organisation, created on a statutory footing and on a sustainable funding/governance model. The question of the role tenants should play in the new system is one being asked by the SHR.[29] The exact form that this body should take should be the subject of discussion between residents’ groups, charities and the government, but it should be independent of government and landlords and should work closely in partnership with local tenant organisations, connect them regionally, and collaborate nationally with existing resident engagement organisations. This organisation should not only seek to genuinely represent the views of tenants alone, but could also play a pro-active role in the newly designed regulatory framework in which the national tenants’ voice organisation:


      1. Is involved in the setting of the SHR’s objectives;
      2. Is involved in the setting and monitoring of resident satisfaction measures;
      3. Can, alongside the HO, recommend systemic issues affecting residents to the SHR as lines of investigation;
      4. Can become a partner to the HO and the SHR on the side of tenants and be actively involved in specific investigations being undertaken by them; and
      5. Is, alongside the SHR and the HO,[30] a statutory consultee to any proposed amendments to the regulatory framework.


8.16.  Such steps would go some way to ensuring that social housing residents themselves are placed at the centre of the regulatory regime, and to foster greater collaboration between social landlords and tenants. Above all, it would help bring about a culture change whereby social housing tenants would no longer have to endure the sense of isolation and hopelessness that many residents, including those that lived at Grenfell Tower, continue to face. The Government should begin discussions with residents’ groups immediately in order to discuss how it might advance these objectives and finally give residents a proper stake in the regulatory framework that oversees the management of their homes.


  1. Professionalisation


8.17.  The Government has acknowledged that staff working on behalf of social housing landlords can let down residents and fail to treat them with courtesy and respect.[31] GU members’ experience of living in Grenfell Tower prior to the fire was one of being maligned by specific members of staff working for RBKC and the KCTMO, who acted, emboldened by the prevailing cultures within their organisations, to act without professionalism and without regard for the residents whose interests they were supposed to be working for.[32]


8.18.  The Government has promised to initiate a review of professional training and development, considering standards and qualifications across all social housing officers, including senior staff.[33] We understand the importance of the Government carefully considering the practicalities of any amendments to standards across the housing sector, but stress that any new regulatory framework will only be successful if standards of competence and professionalism are driven up across the sector.


8.19.  As a first step, ministers should account to the Committee for the progress of the review it has been undertaking since the publication of the White Paper over a year ago. Thereafter, we consider that mandatory continuing professional development modules, minimum qualification thresholds, and a set of values and ethics to which all housing professionals must subscribe should be introduced, in order to drive up standards across the sector.


  1. Should all providers of social housing, not just councils, be required to register with the regulator?


9.1.      All providers of social housing, not just local housing authorities, should be required to register with the Regulator. Our reason for this view is clear and simple: while RBKC failed abysmally in its role as landlord, the KCTMO, which managed RBKC’s properties including Grenfell Tower on their behalf, was also utterly dysfunctional. The Grenfell Tower fire has shone a light on Arms Length Management Organisations (‘ALMOs’), like KCTMO. For the regulatory regime to have any proper oversight, it must include housing associations, ALMOs and Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs), so that the millions of tenants who reside in properties managed by such organisations have the same rights as those being managed by local housing authorities.[34]  




  1. Grenfell United is able to substantiate any of the points made by way of oral evidence to the Committee on request.

Grenfell United


December 2021

[1] Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Commons Select Committee Inquiry into the Regulation of Social Housing, Call for evidence.

[2] Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Terms of Reference, 1(e)

[3] A new deal for social housing and call for evidence on social housing regulation, HM Government, August 2018. As the then Prime Minister, Rt Hon Theresa May MP said upon the finalisation of the Inquiry’s terms of reference, “I am determined that the broader questions raised by this fire – including around social housing – are not left unanswered” (15.08.2017)

[4] The Charter for Social Housing Residents: Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, November 2020

[5] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, November 2020, p4

[6] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p7

[7] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p39 §59, p40 §65. See also Regulator of Social Housing, Reshaping consumer regulation: Our principles and approach, November 2021, p7.

[8] Shelter, Building For Our Future: A Vision For Social Housing, p55

[9] Regulator of Social Housing, Reshaping consumer regulation: Our principles and approach, November 2021, p7.

[10] 79% of respondents agreed that the regulator should adopt a more proactive approach to regulation on consumer standards: A new deal for social housing and call for evidence on social housing regulation, Q32

[11] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p36 §56. See also the Prime Minister’s Office’s briefing to the 2021 Queen’s Speech, which states that it will legislate “as soon as practicable, p114.

[12] Building Safety Bill, current draft as amended in Commons Public Bill Committee, clause 139.

[13] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p37 §§56-57.

[14] 480,000 socially rented homes fall short of the basic minimum of the Decent Homes Standard, despite the £37bn spent by local authorities and housing associations under the programme between 2001 and 2011. See Centre for Ageing Better, The Good Home Inquiry: Good Homes for All, A Proposal to Fix England’s Housing, September 2021, p15

[15] ITV News, Residents’ anger as Clarion cleared despite “slum” conditions on housing estate’, 17.08.2021. See also Inside Housing, ‘Clarion cleared by RSH following ITV investigation’, 12.08.2021

[16] See RBK00002419/9 §§10.4-10.5}. See also evidence of Peter Maddison {T124/73/2-/75/13}. Transcripts are referenced here as {day/page/line}.

[17] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, pp40-41 §67

[18] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p21 §16

[19] Robert Black {T151/79/7}

[20] They did not, for example, have any KPIs in relation to fire safety whatsoever. See Laura Johnson evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry {T128/210/15-211/13} and Roger Black {T150/63/8}.

[21] Building Safety Bill, current draft as amended in Commons Public Bill Committee, clause 139.

[22] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p29 §33. Housing Ombudsman decision currently take on average around 8 months: Shelter, Building For Our Future: A Vision For Social Housing, p55

[23] Shelter, Building For Our Future: A Vision For Social Housing, p55.

[24] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p31 §38

[25] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p31 §39

[26] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p33 §45

[27] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p4

[28] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p47 §§91-92

[29] Regulator of Social Housing, Reshaping consumer regulation: Our principles and approach, November 2021, p9.

[30] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p33 §46

[31] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p49 §97

[32] The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard that there is no mandatory continuing professional development for housing professionals (see evidence of Teresa Brown {T126/120/20}, Claire Williams {T54/88/20-89/22} and Janice Wray {T140/11/6}), and that as a result there were significant gaps in the knowledge and skills of housing officers at RBKC and KCTMO (see for example evidence of Black {T149/12/13, T149/7/6} and Amanda Johnson {T130/131/14}).

[33] Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p49 §98

[34] This is an aim acknowledged by the Social Housing White Paper: Social Housing White Paper, HM Government, p42 §68