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Regulation update

Helen White reports on the latest work of the Regulatory Board for Wales.

Keeping tenants at the heart of regulation

Ensuring the voice of tenants is heard in the Regulatory Framework is a personal passion of mine, which is shared by the whole board. We are very grateful to the Tenant Advisory Panel (TAP) for all its hard work over the years to create an effective conduit between the Regulatory Board and housing association tenants in Wales.

At our last meeting we considered some exciting new proposals presented by TPAS Cymru, which has successfully tendered for the single Welsh Government tenant support contract, to refresh the way that insight on the views of tenants is gathered and presented to the Board.

The new approach will use a mix of traditional networks, workshops and new media channels to gain as broad a reach as possible. We are working to connect with a representative range of housing association tenants.

Adopting a more inclusive approach, facilitated by TPAS Cymru, means that TAP has ceased to exist. We have set up a steering group to ensure that this new way of working delivers an improved voice for tenants in regulation and I am very pleased that Mike Wiseman, previously chair of TAP, will continue to work with us as a member of that group. I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the board to thank all members of TAP, past and present, for their efforts.

Regulatory reform

The changes introduced to the regulatory framework are now ‘live’. The first regulatory judgments to include a judgment based on the association’s capacity to improve have been published.

This is an exciting step forward in how regulation operates in Wales, providing a clear picture of how associations are performing. This clarity is great not only for the associations themselves but also for all stakeholders.

The revised approach also includes a requirement for boards to sign off an annual compliance statement. This new way of working will improve regulatory oversight whilst keeping the three main principles of the framework: tenants at its centre; the independence of housing associations; and co-regulation.

Regulatory focus continues to be on strategic risks and business viability issues. This is more relevant than ever as housing associations continue to respond to a changing and increasingly complex operating environment.

Supporting good governance

Good governance is vital to the success of the sector. The RBW wants to support housing associations to have the highest quality governance arrangements to support the delivery of their business objectives.

We have decided our next thematic review will focus on governance, building on the last comprehensive review undertaken in 2013. We want to establish a clear picture of current state of housing association governance in Wales. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses will aid the regulator and stakeholders, and hopefully provide a clear platform from which associations can base their own plans to improve governance.

Our review is timely and fits well with the CHC’s plans to review the current code of governance. But we want to be really clear: this will not be about providing a prescriptive way of how to ‘do’ governance! Housing associations are independent organisations that should have the autonomy to make their own decisions. This only emphasises the importance of having the right skills around the board table and a governance structure that is appropriate.

RBW believes high performing boards fully embrace the value of a co-regulatory approach and invest appropriately to support this at board level, for example through a robust approach to self evaluation and, going forward, in their approach to the compliance statement.

Scrutinising regulation

We are clear on our remit as a board: to advise the minister on the performance of the sector, and to scrutinise the work of the regulation team. The scrutiny we undertake forms a significant part of our quarterly meetings and monthly conference calls. This has helped develop a good relationship between the Regulatory Board and the regulation team based on both challenge and support.

We are all committed to learning the lessons from all the complex cases the regulator deals with and we are keen to share this learning with the sector. I am determined to make sure the work of the Regulatory Board is as open and transparent as possible, whilst balancing the commercial and sometimes sensitive nature of the issues we discuss. The fact we are now an independent board means we can really get ‘under the skin’ of the issues and discuss them in detail. We can do this for both past and current complex cases.

Thankyou Gayna Jones

Sadly, the RBW has to say goodbye to Gayna Jones, who has reached the end of her term as a board member. Gayna has played hugely influential role over the past six years and will be sorely missed. I would personally like to thank Gayna for the support she has given me since I took on the role of chair.

Helen White is chair of the Regulatory Board for Wales. She is on Twitter @arthursmam

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