Vulnerability in Social Housing – a ‘Relationship of Equals’?

The Housing Ombudsman Service has recently published its newest report, ‘Spotlight on: Attitudes, respect and rights – Relationship of Equals’, which can be accessed here.

The report examines cases which have previously been determined by the Ombudsman, together with public responses, which were given to a ‘call for evidence’ to evaluate how social housing providers may better respond to the needs of vulnerable residents.

It is noted that “more than half of [social housing] households will include someone with a disability or long-term illness and 40% of social tenants report issues with mental health”. However, the Ombudsman comments that when requests and complaints are handled by housing providers “too often… residents’ vulnerabilities are missed, or the response is inappropriate”.

As an example, under the Equality Act 2010, social housing providers must ensure that residents with a disability or any other protected characteristic are not subjected to direct or indirect discrimination when accessing and using their services. This may involve the making of reasonable adjustments for their needs.

58% of the residents who responded to the Ombudsman’s call for evidence considered themselves to have a disability, and of that number, 68% stated that their landlord had not made reasonable adjustments when asked to do so. The report concludes that there is a pressing need for landlords to adapt in order to ensure that the most vulnerable residents are not left behind.

The Ombudsman makes several recommendations for social landlords in the short and long-term, including, but not limited to:

  1. The implementation of a vulnerability strategy and a specific reasonable adjustments policy, which may be stress tested against the three ‘Rs’ – recognise, respond and record;
  2. The introduction of minimum staff training requirements, to include training on issues such as sight and hearing loss and mental health;
  3. That disability or language needs be routinely considered as part of the complaints process;
  4. That mandatory checks (such as a gas safety inspection) may be used as an opportunity to undertake welfare checks with residents.

Further recommendations are made for the sector more widely, and the Ombudsman emphasises the need for far-reaching reform by the Government and other agencies going forward, as social landlords cannot do this alone. These recommendations include, but not limited to:

  1. That a ‘universal statutory definition of the term vulnerable’ be introduced;
  2. That a ‘statutory duty to co-operate’ with landlords be placed on other agencies such as the police;
  3. That a new Royal Commission on housing be established to guide long-term strategy.

If you have any questions about the recent report, please do not hesitate to contact our Social Housing Governance Team.

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