Social welfare and housing

Social housing reforms cannot be separate to improving tenant access to legal aid

Social housing tenants may not benefit from a raft of improvements proposed by the government in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy if no provisions are made to increase access to legal aid.

Birdseye view of houses in Somerset

“These proposals have been much anticipated and the proposals for better landlord accountability and a strengthened regulatory regime are extremely welcome,” said Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene.

“However, there is no mention of improvements to the availability of legal aid to accompany these improvements. The additional rights that go with them may have very little meaning if people are unable to access them – in many cases, tenants will need legal advice which they can ill afford without legal aid.

“Making advice services available through a housing ombudsman is no replacement for specialist legal advice,” he added.

The 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy prompted the government to examine its social housing system and how it treats residents.

In 2018, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) triggered a consultation looking at how regulation of social housing can be improved leading to the White Paper published this week.

David Greene added: “We are very pleased the MHCLG has made recommendations to improve the current circumstances of social housing tenants.

“The suggested changes are broad and include legislative adjustments so tenants will be kept better informed about their rights and landlord obligations and create consistent and strong regulation.

“Plans to create better alignment between the safety requirements of social housing and the private rented sector have also been put forward, with a consultation on safety requirements around smoke and carbon monoxide alarms being published. A consultation on electrical safety will also follow.

“Such parity is a vital part of shifting attitudes to social housing tenants. There should be no difference between protections offered to social housing tenants and those in the private rented sector.”

Notes to editors

Read the MHCLG’s 2018 New Deal for Social Housing Green Paper

Read more about the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018

Read the Charter for Social Housing Residents White Paper

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