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Regulation update

As the Regulatory Board for Wales (RBW) gets a new chair, Bob Smith looks forward to 2021.

Looking back on what has been an exceedingly difficult year for everyone, and devastating for far too many people, the pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges, both in terms of public health and economic and social impacts. It has highlighted the importance of safe, secure, good quality homes and placed government under extreme pressures, not only to contain the spread of the virus but also in using policy to mitigate some of the effects.

Housing regulation supports the availability and quality of housing services and impacts upon the ability of organisations to deliver and maintain critical functions. At the beginning of the pandemic, routine regulatory work and the publication of regulatory judgements in Wales were both paused so that housing associations could focus on continuing to deliver core services. However, this wasn’t ideal and following consultation with the sector, a programme of interim regulatory judgements has been introduced; light touch assessments with priority set by an assessment process including regulatory intelligence and existing judgements. Since May this year the housing regulator has also undertaken monthly business continuity surveys of all housing associations in Wales, which has also shaped the programme of interim regulatory judgements. These flexibilities have hopefully reduced the regulatory burdens on individual associations.

During the year there has also been the need for Welsh Government to reprioritise staffing resources to respond to the immediate Covid-19 crisis and this has meant some redeployment of regulation staff. However, as a Board we see such pragmatic responses as temporary measures and remain committed to ensuring the resilience of housing regulation in Wales and its positive development.

Although RBW has not met face-to-face since late January 2020 we have been able to hold regular virtual meetings via Microsoft Teams to ensure we are kept up to date on issues affecting the housing sector in Wales and to exercise our role in providing an oversight of the regulatory function for housing associations. At the start of December, we published our annual report to the minister for housing and local government, and we have worked with officials to produce a separate Housing Regulation Performance Assurance Report for 2019/20 giving a more detailed analysis of the work of housing regulation and the performance of the sector. This should be published early in 2021.

However, as we make clear in our report to the minister, there are several challenges and opportunities that exist to develop housing regulation in Wales: improving the assessment of governance; considering strengthening the voice of tenants in regulation; and reflecting on how we might achieve a closer alignment of regulatory accountability across the different parts of the social housing sector in Wales.

The regulator is now working with Campbell Tickell on a review of the Regulatory Framework. Whilst it is broadly our view that the current framework is working well, a survey has been conducted to consider any possible changes to the dimensions of the Regulatory Judgements and to gather views on whether, for example, a separate judgement on tenant services/service delivery (in addition to the existing judgements on governance and finance) would be desirable. It is also exploring the scope and clarity of the existing performance standards (‘are they fit for purpose?’) and seeking views on the regulator’s role in setting expectations about equality, diversity and inclusion (and how these might be embedded in governance and service delivery). The online survey will be supplemented early in 2021 with a series of workshops to consider key themes emerging from the survey. RBW looks forward to seeing the results of this work which will be key in shaping the future of housing association regulation in Wales.

Throughout the year RBW has worked closely (if socially distanced) with the Regulatory Advisory Group (who have played a significant role in shaping the Framework Review) and with civil servants in housing regulation. We are incredibly grateful for the commitment of the group, individual stakeholders and Welsh Government officials to support the work of the Board.

Whilst the last year has presented considerable challenges (and constraints are likely to be in place for some time) there is cause for optimism as we look forward to 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for ensuring the continued resilience of the housing sector in Wales and has shown that regulatory systems are able to respond and adapt to change and address new challenges. RBW is committed to continuing to work with Welsh Government officials and the wider housing sector to developing further robust and properly resourced evidence-based regulation which will continue to respond to changing policy environments and priorities.

Finally, we are pleased that the minister announced in December the appointment of a new chair of the RBW from January 2021. Deep Sagar has considerable leadership, management, and governance experience, both in private industry and in a range of non-executive roles in the public and not-for profit sectors, including social housing. We look forward to working with Deep to strengthen still further housing regulation in Wales.

Bob Smith is a member of the Regulatory Board for Wales (RBW)

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