Baroness Sanderson of Welton debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 2nd Feb 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Thu 1st Oct 2020
Fire Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 16th Jun 2020

Social Housing Standards

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Wednesday 16th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend. When I read about this, I was also very surprised by the timeline: once Awaab’s father had instructed solicitors, the housing association then said it could do nothing further. I understand that many housing providers have a policy to routinely pause addressing complaints through their process when legal proceedings are commenced, and that this stays in place until agreements are reached between solicitors. I do not think that is right. We need to look at this. Repairs should not be stopped. When rehousing is necessary, I do not think that should be stopped. I understand that this is in the hands of the housing providers; if they want to keep going with maintenance, rehousing or whatever is required, they can. They have decided to have this policy, but personally I do not think it is acceptable.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, the Housing Ombudsman said earlier today that at the heart of little Awaab’s death lies the behaviour of the landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. As he said, for this landlord, and perhaps too many others in the social housing sector, there are issues with culture, behaviours and values. We know this. We have seen it time and again. So, while I commend the Government for all the actions they have taken since Grenfell, will they look again at including professionalisation in the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill? My noble friend the Minister has emphasised the importance of culture change, but without professionalisation it will be so much harder to change the culture, behaviours and values of those working on social housing.

My right honourable friend in the other place said that it is the right of everyone to feel safe in the place where they and their loved ones sleep at night. We know that many living in social housing would feel happier, safer and more valued knowing that the people responsible for their homes were qualified, just as those in other sectors with responsibilities to others are qualified. If this is to be a defining moment, let us not waste this opportunity. We have a real opportunity to do something about this now.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank my noble friend. I wondered whether I would get that question from her or the Front Bench opposite. Noble Lords know that we recognise in the social housing White Paper the need to improve professional standards in social housing, so that all residents receive the high-quality services they deserve and, as importantly, in my opinion, are treated with dignity and respect by social housing staff.

We have carried out a review on professional training and development and, as a result, have amended the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to allow the Secretary of State to direct the regulator to set standards on the competence and conduct of all staff involved in the management of social housing. The new competence and conduct standard will ensure providers take appropriate steps to ensure all staff have the right knowledge, skills and experience, and demonstrate the behaviours required for the delivery of high-quality and professional services for tenants. As my noble friend knows, the Bill is going through the other place at the moment. I am sure there will be more discussions on this, so we wait to see.

Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Lord Bishop of Chelmsford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford
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I rise to express very briefly my support for Amendment 23, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. I welcome the Government’s restating at the Bill’s Committee stage their commitment to review professionalisation. However, I want to urge them to accept this amendment, which would help to ensure that appropriate professional qualifications, training and registration are upheld. The challenges we face in the social housing sector require high standards of management which, sadly, we do not always see, and this amendment will help to ensure those.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister and the Secretary of State for the time and effort they have put into this and other issues; they should be given credit for what they have done. I declare my interest as a community adviser on Grenfell. The Minister has worked with the community in a previous role, and I know she always has their best interests at heart, as well as those of other social housing tenants across the country. However, while I appreciate that the Government’s amendment improves on the current situation, I am afraid that the lack of any professional qualification structure leaves something of a hole—a cavity, if you like—in their plan.

In essence, the Government’s proposal says that requiring the regulator to set a professional standard will drive up knowledge, skills and experience in the sector. It argues that while they are not mandatory, qualifications may be one element of how landlords could achieve this, as part of a wider approach to training and development. I agree: qualifications are not the only way to improve skills and standards, but I am struggling to see how we do it without them, particularly in an area where the need to drive out stigma is so necessary and overwhelming. In any other sector, be it social work or education, qualifications are integral—fundamental, even—to increasing knowledge and, most importantly, to providing a career path. If we want to encourage people into social housing, to take pride in that career, we must give them a way to progress. Without that infrastructure it will be so much harder to bring about meaningful change. Would it not also be a useful indicator of compliance? It is hard to see how the regulator will accurately measure competence across the sector. I welcome the checks and balances provided for in this amendment, but it is unclear on what grounds the regulator will be able to apply sanctions where necessary.

I realise that some of these questions will be for the proposed consultation, but at the moment it all feels a bit woolly. There is constant talk of driving up skills and knowledge, but not enough in practical terms on how to achieve this goal. To that end, as the Bill progresses will the Government consider including a specific request to the regulator to consult experts such as the Chartered Institute of Housing on a suitable qualifications framework?

I am pretty sure that the Minister will say to me that doing so could lead to a reclassification by the ONS. I fully understand the risks involved, as have been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I appreciate that the Government have no control over the ONS’s decisions. However, at the moment we are still talking about a risk, not a certainty, so, as my noble friend Lord Young suggested, is it not possible to consult the ONS on this? Otherwise, we are in a world of “what ifs” and “maybes”, which seems absurd given what is at stake. For as it stands, we seem to be saying that tenants in social housing can expect to send their child to a school where the teacher must be qualified, and to send their parents to a care home where there must be suitably qualified staff, but that the people responsible for running their homes do not need any qualifications at all.

The Government argue that they are not ruling out qualifications, but that providers must be allowed to determine the right mix. I am sure the Minister will understand why there is nervousness about leaving this to landlords’ discretion. Do we really expect them to introduce qualifications voluntarily? This is not just about Grenfell. As I mentioned in Committee, one look at Kwajo Tweneboa’s Twitter account and the neglect and misery it chronicles will tell you all you need to know about the attitude and aptitude of some providers. They are the worst examples, but surely the least likely to equip their staff with qualifications.

Finally, I repeat one more point I made in Committee: what happens if the Grenfell Tower inquiry recommends mandatory professionalisation? Will all the same arguments apply, or will we have to find a way around this later down the line, when we should be doing it now? To that end, while I reiterate my thanks to the Minister and the Secretary of State—I understand that it is a difficult area—I cannot help feeling that on this issue, the department may need to provide us with some more answers.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, this has been a very powerful debate on something that is pretty esoteric: the qualifications of those providing social housing. However, it seems vital for the safety of social housing tenants that the people responsible for the management of their properties know what they are doing. This group of amendments includes alternative ways forward in relation to the importance of raising standards of management and the need for professional qualifications.

On the one hand, the Minister is arguing for a light-touch approach, as set out in her Amendment 10, arguing that there is a risk of reclassification of the sector if the strategy laid out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Amendment 23 is followed. But two things come to mind. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, explained that the approach she has laid out is flexible and combines that with an ambition for higher standards in the sector. Her amendment uses “may” throughout, so it is not a mandatory approach. It is trying to say, “Here is a way forward to raise standards—follow it, sector, and raise standards”. What an ambition that would be.

On the other hand, we have the Minister arguing that there is a risk of reclassification. I have to say that if there is a barrier to raising standards in the management of social housing, it needs to go. We have to find a way around it. We have heard two examples from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness. They have both explained how we can get around this—so let us get around it.

Shelter has highlighted in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy that social housing tenants were concerned not only with safety but with maintenance, repairs and poor living conditions. Social landlords and managers are the first port of call for tenants to raise concerns about standards, so ensuring that senior managers are qualified and have the requisite knowledge and experience will have a trickle-down effect—something I am sure the Minister will approve of. So, let us professionalise the workforce.

In Committee, my noble friend Lady Thornhill—who is unfortunately unable to be here today as she is not well—made comparisons between the workforce of the health and care sector and that of the social housing sector. That comparison rightly reflects the important role of social housing in the well-being of the nation, but, like the health sector, housing and construction are facing shortages of both people and resources. Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would ensure that the Government were able to prescribe mandatory qualifications—but, as I have said, in a flexible way. That would protect tenants and make sure that their homes were safe and fit for habitation, and that tenants’ voices were heard. As has already been said, one of the findings of the Grenfell inquiry was that tenants’ voices were ignored.

The Government have listened to the debate in Committee and the calls from groups such as Grenfell United and Shelter, reflected on their own commitment and brought forward a number of amendments in this group with the aim of raising standards for registered providers and social housing managers. Of course, I welcome this, but the Government’s argument that a balance needs to be struck between safety and workforce supply is, in my view, a false one. Ultimately, the safety of social housing tenants has to be paramount. We need to make sure that the situation is not made worse for tenants by exacerbating problems in the training and retention of staff, but in the end, the quality of managers is what keeps tenants safe.

High-rise Buildings: Evacuation of Disabled Residents

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(2 years ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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Having evacuation lifts in high rises, as well as more than a single staircase, is the sort of thing we need to capture and make very clear in building regulations. This will become something of the purview of the new building safety regulator. It is a very good point.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a community adviser on Grenfell, so I really do understand the anger at the decision not to implement PEEPs. In this instance, it is important to acknowledge that this was done not just on a whim or after a single meeting. The truth is that a tremendous amount of work has been done on this behind the scenes, but we have not arrived at a satisfactory place. To that end, would my noble friend agree that it is hugely important that all the interested parties follow the lead of Andy Roe, the LFB commissioner, take part in the new consultation and make their concerns known so that we can make progress and get to a better place?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her recognition of the hard work it has taken to get to this position. There were nearly 400 responses. All were carefully gone through and responded to as part of the previous consultation. I join her in encouraging all parties to come forward and respond to the EEIS+ consultation. The Government really are listening and it is important that we hear from as many diverse stakeholders as possible.

Building Safety Bill

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome today’s debate, and I thank my noble friend the Minister for his commitment to this issue. It is appreciated.

We all know the importance of the Bill before us today and we all know what led to its creation: the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower. It was a tragedy that shocked and shamed the country, yet more shocking still has been the evidence that has since come out of the public inquiry. Listening to all those involved makes for a deeply depressing experience. With the notable exception of RBKC, no one is ever to blame. It is always someone else’s fault, someone else’s problem.

Take the architects involved in the refurbishment. Apparently, they did not have design responsibility; that was the contractors’—except the contractors say that they delegated it to the cladding subcontractor. But no, hold on a minute, the cladding subcontractor says that the design compliance was not its job but the job of—wait for it—the architects. As for the companies that made the cladding, Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan —no, none of this was their responsibility. Never mind that the inquiry evidence shows that they manufactured or provided products that they knew or suspected to be dangerous for buildings of above 80 metres. Nor, apparently, was it the fault of the bodies responsible for testing and certification—bodies that have been accused of being too close to their customers and failing to provide the necessary protections.

Worse even than all this is the casual disregard—the flippancy—shown by pretty much everyone involved, at every level, in an industry that is supposed to have safety at its core. It is impossible to convey, so here they are in their own words, as heard at the public inquiry. An email from a senior staff member at Local Authority Building Control about the wording of a certificate, wrongly asserting that Kingspan’s insulation could be used on high-rise buildings, states:

“This issue has been burning for a LONG time though, hasn’t it? (Get it!!!!) Why is it raising its head again all of a sudden?”


An email between the contractors, fire engineers and architects, about the need to install strong fire barriers, says:

“There is no point in ‘fire stopping’, as we all know, the ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!”


Messages between employees of Kingspan discussing the rating of their material as class 0, or non-combustible, state:

“Doesn’t actually get class 0 when we test the whole product tho. LOL.”


An email from Grenfell’s fire risk assessor to the council’s tenant management organisation, after the LFB contacted them asking for help in identifying vulnerable persons, said:

“I would say you have nobody that this refers to … If you identify anybody now questions like why were they not included in the buildings FRA spring to mind. A good response I believe would be thank you for this information if we find anyone in the future we will let you know.”


For reference, while some updating did later take place, 15 of the 37 residents classed as vulnerable and disabled died in the fire.

This, then, was the culture of a truly broken industry. Within this, I fully appreciate that the role of government must also be looked at, and it will be considered by the inquiry shortly. I also appreciate, however, that that must not take away from the huge strides that the Bill will make.

Before I get on to that, I have one question for my noble friend the Minister. Incredible as it seems, post Grenfell and after all we have learned, the regulations still allow for tall residential buildings with only one fire escape staircase. Last month, it came to light that plans for two such developments in London are being rethought after concerns were raised locally and by the LFB.

Dozens of other countries require two or more escape stairs in such buildings, and I would like to know whether we will consider doing the same. It seems an anomaly when the Bill will do so much to fix the system, including the building safety regulator; new competence requirements for anyone carrying out design or building work; gateway points to ensure that building regulations compliance is considered at every stage of design and construction; and an accountable person who will ensure that residents are given a voice in decisions that concern the safety of their buildings. These changes are all designed to ensure that a tragedy such as Grenfell never happens again. While I understand that there will be improvements to make, regarding cladding remediation in particular, I urge noble Lords to bear in mind the fundamental reason for the Bill: that no one has to endure what the residents endured that night.

I declare my interest as a community adviser on Grenfell. I have worked with many members of the community since the days immediately after the fire. I have witnessed their strength and dignity in the face of so much suffering. I have heard what happened to them. It is not something that they like to talk about but, with kind permission, I want to tell one man’s story.

He grew up in Grenfell Tower and his mother and sister still lived there. On the night of the fire, they were trapped on one of the upper floors. His sister called him, leaving the line open as he rushed from his home in north London. Standing inside the cordon area, he saw his friends at the windows. He watched the flames engulf the building, as he remained on the phone to his sister. Despite her deteriorating situation she kept insisting she was okay, until finally she began to fade away. He heard a banging on the floor and then silence. At this point, he thought he had lost his mum too but, 30 seconds later and for the first time in the early hours of that morning, he heard her voice. She was struggling for breath and said her last words: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” He stayed on the phone, unable to cut off the call, hearing only the sound of the fire but hoping against all hope that maybe they would be okay, maybe someone would rescue them. It took him over an hour before he finally managed to switch off his phone.

Can noble Lords imagine how difficult that must have been and how difficult the reliving of that moment must still be? That is the reality of Grenfell. That is why the Bill is before us today—and it is why we must do everything we can to ensure its safe passage through this House.

Fire Safety Bill

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 1st October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, and I welcome my noble friend Lord Herbert to this House.

On the face of it, this is a straightforward Bill that will clarify the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to better identify and enforce against fire risk in multi-occupied residential buildings. In reality, of course, the situation is far more complicated, for lying behind this piece of legislation is the devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire and the knowledge that 72 people lost their lives simply by virtue of the fact that they were at home at the time. By definition, a home is somewhere that should provide protection, not sow the seeds of a person’s death.

I welcome the Bill, as it will significantly improve the safety of millions of people around the country. It is, however, only one part of a raft of measures to improve standards. There is the building safety Bill, and another key element in this process is the fire safety consultation, which closes in less than a fortnight and includes proposals to implement all the recommendations made by Sir Martin Moore-Bick in his excellent phase 1 report.

I am afraid I do not agree with the argument put forward in the other place that a number of those recommendations should be included in the Bill. As they should, the recommendations incorporate significant change. Sir Martin himself said that it was

“important that they command the support of those who have experience of the matters to which they relate.”

It was therefore essential to consult, not least because the Government are legally obliged to do so, given that the vast majority of the recommendations will require implementation in law.

However, I completely understand the anger and frustration at the lack of pace. As has been mentioned today, it is more than three years since the fire and nearly 12 months since the recommendations were first made. I ask my noble friend the Minister to give a clear timeframe for when and how the recommendations will be implemented. When will the Government respond to the consultation, and when can we expect the regulations that will enable many of the recommendations to be put in place? When does he expect the building safety Bill to be introduced?

Together, these measures will significantly improve fire safety standards. I pay tribute to all those from the Grenfell community, particularly Grenfell United, whose members spend their time campaigning on this issue solely so that what happened to them does not happen to anyone else. At the very least, we owe them some reassurance as to when these much-needed changes will be brought about.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has withdrawn so the next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Storey.

Social Housing

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(4 years ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to publish the social housing White Paper.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, we will publish the social housing White Paper later this year. It will set out further measures to empower tenants and support the continued supply of social homes. This will include greater redress, better regulation and improving the quality of social housing.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con) [V]
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My Lords, last Sunday marked the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, which highlighted the great need to address social housing. Meanwhile, coronavirus has shown the importance of having a home that is a decent, safe and secure. For many, this will mean social housing. Will my noble friend the Minister come forward with a clearer timeline than the end of the year as to when the White Paper will be published?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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I cannot add to the timeline that I have already provided. However, I will say that we are a matter of weeks away from publication of the new building safety Bill, which will transform the safety of many of those who are currently living at risk of similar events to Grenfell. That will form a new regulatory oversight for all tenants, including those in social housing.