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Last week in this diary I wrote about the reputational issues currently facing the social housing sector. This week its largest representative, Clarion Housing Group, was in the housing news spotlight again for unfavourable reasons.
On Wednesday, Inside Housing revealed that Clarion erroneously told the Housing Ombudsman that it had fulfilled a compensation order and ultimately ending up paying out more than five months later than it should have done. It was a small case, but one which highlighted some of the potential frailties in the social housing complaints process that are closely tied to criticisms facing the sector. Clarion has apologised to the resident concerned for the delay and they have now received the compensation owed.
The next day, Clarion was attacked in the House of Commons by MP Siobhain McDonagh who, having detailed constituency cases involving the landlord, remarked: “Sometimes I feel like I work for Clarion.” In the ensuing debate, it emerged that the association is being investigated by the English regulator for the second time in three months following an ITV News report on squalid conditions at one of its estates in south London.
Clarion has admitted falling short “of the standards our residents have a right to expect” at that estate and said it is working to resolve the issues including by speeding up repairs.
But Clarion was not the only social landlord with cause to grimace this week. Cornwall Council’s ALMO has been criticised heavily by two independent reviews, with one raising health and safety concerns. Another two housing associations were downgraded by the Regulator of Social Housing.
Separately, Inside Housing revealed that an exempt accommodation provider, Concept Housing Association – which was named in a fierce expose of the sub-sector by The Observer over the weekend – saw its surplus surge by more than 3,000% last year amid a huge increase in the size of its stock.
There was a shot across the bows from a union over the proposed merger between Riverside and One Housing Group announced last week. Unite hit out after an email from One Housing’s chief executive to staff said role reductions are “likely”. The association has promised to consult with employees over any significant changes and listen to their responses.
There were also some hints as to the future impact of the coronavirus pandemic on housing – and how it may differ across Britain. The Welsh government followed the Scottish government’s lead and announced a grant scheme for struggling private renters – something not yet available in England.
It was revealed that in Scotland, the number of households applying for homelessness assistance fell nearly 10% during 2020/21. But at the other end of the island, new statistics showed that rough sleeping in London had actually increased over that period despite redoubled efforts to take people off the streets.
Meanwhile, the government in England was keen to highlight figures indicating that housebuilding has fully recovered from lockdown. It’s a complex picture, but the decisions taken by politicians across the UK will doubtless have major ramifications for those dealing with the housing crisis in all its forms.
Nathaniel Barker, deputy news editor
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