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The Thin Blue Line – why housing regulation needs to be resourced and supported

Published by Phil Morgan on Monday, December 10th, 2012 at 09:59 am

The recent batch of regulatory judgements from the Regulatory Committee including falsifying documents for £50million of grant, and failure to act on whistleblowing for £47 million are sobering. These are not trivial sums of money or casual acts of negligence. Add to this the still unresolved issue of Cosmopolitan Housing and the need for a regulator to ensure protection for investment and tenants has never been clearer.

The apparent revelation that the social housing regulator is not being resourced adequately tells us yet more about the lazy contempt from the Coalition Government to housing regulation. In reality this is not a new issue but a residual hangover of the new Coalition Government bans, later severe restrictions, on any new staff recruitment into a range of public bodies and quangos.

For any new appointment, even within agreed budgets and staff structures, bodies such as the social housing regulator have to go, cap in hand, to civil servants in CLG. They in turn have to see if Ministers will agree to these appointments. Of course Ministers are busy and there is an inevitable lag, both deliberate and accidental, in their giving approval.

The lack of resources is an issue that the Regulatory Committee will have discussed before but making it public tells us two things: that lack of resources is stopping the regulator working as it should and that the Committee have given up in despair at the usual route of informal dialogue with CLG and its ministers.

After the debacle of Ujima Housing it has been noticeable that the social housing regulator, in its various guises, has been remarkably effective in dealing with a wide range of difficult situations. Given that we have been going through a profound financial crisis which has impacted on social landlords that effectiveness is welcome to both private funders and the wider public interest.

However we have housing ministers who want to further marginalise the role of the regulator. This means continuing to restrict its role overtly to ministers latest ideological fads (Tenant Cashback anyone?) and covertly through restricting staffing.

So I don’t hold out much hope for easing those restrictions on staff numbers in the short term as the cause is ideological rather than bureaucratic.

However around September next year I expect this to suddenly change. Although many landlords are assiduously preparing for welfare reform I expect there to be a few who will have inadequately prepared and around July realise that their arrears have risen sharply and causing real issues.

I expect the big red button marked 'Panic' to be pressed and the regulator will be called on by a rising time of stakeholder bodies to intervene finally picked up by Ministers. Only then I expect the staffing situation will be remarkably eased and staff recruited to the thin blue line of housing regulation.

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