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Social housing green paper: a 'new deal' for social housing

A consultation on the future of social housing.

On 14 August 2018, the Government published its long-awaited green paper on social housing, which sets out what the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government intends to do to improve social housing for tenants. We were disappointed to see how little this green paper focussed on mental health given the fact that one in three social housing tenants has a mental health problem and the importance that housing plays in people's mental wellbeing. However, the paper is divided into 5 chapters and we feel that there is a strong mental health component to each of the issues that these chapters cover.

Chapter 1 – Ensuring homes are safe and decent

This focuses on safety concerns and on what constitutes a "decent home". The government promises a review of the Decent Homes Standard - the Government's set of minimum standards for social housing conditions, last revised in 2006.

In reviewing what a 'decent home' looks like, we want the Government to consider the views of people with mental health problems and the housing conditions that can have a negative impact on their mental as well as physical health.

Chapter 2 – Effective resolution of complaints

This chapter proposes that residents should have a stronger voice to influence decisions made by their housing provider, and suggests ways to make the complaints process easier. It also looks at the advice and support people might need to make a complaint.

We think the processes for engaging with social housing providers and raising concerns should be much easier to understand and navigate. We know that this can be even more difficult and stressful if you have a mental health problem.

Chapter 3 – Empowering residents and strengthening the Regulator

This chapter looks at changing the way the performance of landlords is measured, so that they are assessed against the standards that matter to residents. The paper suggests a number of key performance indicators, and a league table comparing landlords on matters such as disrepair, safety, complaints handling, tenant engagement and anti-social behaviour. It also looks into strengthening the social housing regulator to provide clarity over what should be considered a reasonable service, and the power for the regulator to intervene when this standard isn't met.

We believe that social landlords' performance should be more transparent but we would also want to ensure that key performance indicators reflect the standards that tenants with mental health problems should expect. Additionally, proposals to improve engagement with tenants should consider the best way to reach people with mental health problems. We agree the regulator should have greater powers to scrutinise performance, and guidance for the regulator should include information about what reasonable service for people with mental health problems looks like.

Chapter 4 – Tackling stigma and celebrating thriving communities

One of the things this chapter considers is how the sector can be professionalised to promote a good customer service culture, and it asks whether social landlords should be reporting on the social value they deliver. It also discusses improving policies for tackling anti-social behaviour and measurements for how effectively this is delivered.

We believe that a thriving community is one that is inclusive and supportive of all people, including those with mental health problems. We would also like to see better mental health training for social housing staff and effective support for tenants with mental health problems set as a key performance indicator.

A better understanding of mental health would also play a positive role in approaching anti-social behaviour by recognising the various ways it specifically impacts people with mental health problems. This is a particularly difficult issue. Anti-social behaviour can be evidence of an individual's unmet mental health need. However, this behaviour can also take a heavy toll on the mental wellbeing of those around that individual, such as their household and their neighbours. We would want to see a more nuanced and supportive approach to this issue rather than simply rhetoric about robustly "tackling" anti-social behaviour.

Chapter 5 – Expanding supply and supporting home ownership

Perhaps the most significant part of this chapter, from our perspective, is the section on ensuring existing social housing is used efficiently for those who need it most. Policies for accessing social housing are set by each local authority, so drawing an accurate picture of what is happening nationally is currently almost impossible. Therefore, the Government is proposing to collect evidence from local authorities to better understand the decisions they are making about which residents are allocated housing.

However, there is no specific mention of people with mental health problems and we're concerned that this group could be overlooked. We believe central government and local authorities should collect information on the number of people accessing social housing who have mental health problems, and their experiences. This is the only way to ensure that the system reflects their needs and is truly fair.

The green paper includes a consultation and call for evidence (open until 6 November 2018), that allows people to submit their views and experiences to help influence discussions in Parliament to improve the regulation of social housing.

If you have something to say on these issues you can respond online yourself, or get in touch with us at [email protected].

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