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The case for self-regulation Matthew Warburton - 05/04/2012

Last week the Tenant Services Authority ceased to be.  Among its last acts was publication of a revised regulatory framework which prescribes a much more limited role for the regulator in enforcing tenancy standards.

The HCA, in its new regulatory capacity, will only intervene in the event of a failure to meet one of the regulatory standards if there is a risk that it would cause "serious detriment" to tenants.  This is a tough test which means that the regulator is likely to take action in only a tiny percentage of failures to meet standards.

The HCA's primary focus as regulator will be economic regulation; in other words, work to reassure lenders that housing associations are safe places to put their money.  As previously, this economic regulatory role does not extend  to councils.  Yet councils have just taken on all the new risks associated with self-financing.

If the government has stepped back from regulation of council housing, is there a case for councils to take on responsibility for self-regulation?  Now is certainly a good time for councils individually to take a fresh look at their arrangements for performance management and the governance and scrutiny of the housing service, and reassure themselves that they are providing the best possible service to tenants. 

But there is also a major opportunity for the sector collectively to demonstrate that it can ensure - more effectively than government or an external regulator -  that standards are met and good practice spread to every council.   The case for self-regulation is that it can provide reassurance to tenants - and the public more generally - that high standards will be met and poor performance tackled in every area, and remove the temptation for future governments to intervene or over-regulate.  The fact that councils would be "doing it for themselves" is also likely to be more effective in inspiring commitment and support for self-improvement. 

That is why ARCH looks forward to working with the LGA, CIH and CIPFA over the coming months to explore how arrangements for self-regulation might be taken forward, including the development of a voluntary Code of Practice for council housing.  

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