The new consumer regulation framework – current timeline

Like Rome, proactive consumer regulation won’t be built in a day, or even a year or two.

Consumer metrics – latest state of play

Although the RSH is unable to proceed formally on revamping the regulatory framework ahead of primary legislation being enacted (see below), it’s busy getting its ducks in a row. Extensive ‘soft’ consultation on the consumer metrics (known as the Tenant Satisfaction Measures, or TSMs) is already underway (it can do this within existing powers), and it has appointed three new board members and a director with a consumer focus.

Whilst we know from the White Paper the kind of metrics we might end up with, the detail has yet to be thrashed out (see timetable below). A number of them are tried and tested, but others are somewhat rough around the edges and not especially useful as they are currently expressed. Don’t fret about collecting the misshapen ones now, as robust definitions will materialise over the next 12 months. Your efforts would be better directed at fine tuning the customer experience the metrics point to…..which is the entire point about having the metrics in the first place: what gets measured gets managed.

The consumer metrics timetable looks like this:

  • Now till winter 2021 – soft consultation with providers and tenants via various forums
  • Winter 2021 – spring 2022 – formal consultation
  • Spring – summer 2022 – RSH considers the consultation responses
  • Late summer 2022 – RSH issues a decision statement in anticipation of a consumer metrics April 2023 live date
  • Autumn 2022 – spring 2023 – providers prepare their data collection systems
  • April 2023 – Mar 2024 – providers collect first year of data
  • Summer 2024 – providers submit data to RSH
  • Autumn 2024 – RSH publishes data for public consumption

The RSH is keen to get the metrics right and has set out key principles to guide its efforts:

  • To the aims of the White Paper
  • Well-defined
  • Comparable
  • Sound survey methodology
  • Objective
  • Limited scope for gaming
  • Verifiable
  • Avoids perverse incentives
  • Attributable
  • Timely
  • Cost effective
  • Ease of data collection

If we end up with a suite of metrics that pass these tests, and providing it offers a balanced snapshot of the general customer experience, it should prove a useful tool to help understand social landlord performance. Of course, it begs the question: where does this leave the Sector Scorecard and the RSH’s existing VFM metrics? Both initiatives reflect a time when the political and regulatory landscape was quite different. Born out of a need to address allegations of poor sectoral VFM, they major on the economy and efficiency of operations over the effectiveness of customer service.

Arguably, this is an opportunity to come up with a holistic balanced scorecard that melds the consumer experience with VFM so that any stakeholder can reach an objective view of how well a landlord is performing in the context of what it is trying to achieve and the resources available.
On a somewhat esoteric point, it would also put a tenant focus back into the evaluation of VFM. The tenant perspective was lost from the VFM standard shortly after ‘tenant’ was dropped from the name of the regulator back during the Shapps/Pickles ministerial era. At the time, championing ‘unaspirational’ social tenants’ legitimate expectations didn’t sit well with housing policy that obsessed about the high levels of homeownership achieved in countries like Lithuania.

As for the rest of the regulatory framework

Much depends on primary legislation aimed at empowering the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) to extend its reach beyond economic regulation (of governance, financial viability, VFM and rent setting) to proactively consider consumer issues. Currently, the RSH has no power to intervene on consumer issues unless there is ‘serious detriment’ (ultimately a crystallised or potential risk to life and limb) or if there are systemic operational failures in which case the intervention is in relation to the Governance and Financial Viability Standard, not one of the consumer standards.

As the necessary proposed legislation didn’t make the final cut of the Queen’s speech in spring, a slot in the third parliamentary session is the most likely scenario. There is an outside chance an existing timetabled bill falls away and the required housing legislation gets slotted in, but this is generally seen as unlikely.

A third session slot means that the proposed legislation would be introduced to parliament in early 2022. The scrutiny process should take less than a year, so it could be enacted in the first half of 2023. Subject to direction from the Secretary of State, the RSH will formally consult on its proposed regulatory approach later in 2023. A realistic ‘go live’ date for the shiny new consumer regulatory framework – new powers, standards and an inspection regime – might be 2024/25. As always, none of this is certain.

Preaching what it practices, the RSH’s message to the sector is clear: you don’t need to wait for the legislation to crack on with achieving the general outcomes expressed in the Social Housing White Paper (which are remarkably similar to how things looked in 2012).

Operationalising the desired White Paper outcomes is very much a marathon not a sprint. The focus is squarely on tenants in terms of the service they get and the relationship they have with their landlord. This theme is also picked up in other initiatives such as the NHF’s Code of Governance & Together with Tenants, the Ombudman’s Complaints Code and the Building & Fire legislation. Making steady and thoughtful progress on the landlord/tenant relationship over the next few years is essential to reasserting the centrality of the sector’s social purpose, which post-Grenfell, has been called into question.

Acuity is actively engaged with RSH on developing the metrics. You can contribute too by getting involved in the consultation.

About Denise Raine

Denise Raine is a Director of Acuity Ltd, and has specialised in tenant satisfaction and feedback research for more than 20 years.
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