Since the establishment of the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority (AHBRA) in February 2021, there has been a substantial amount of work undertaken in the formation of our organisational structures and processes. The creation of the new statutory body marks an important change in how the AHB sector is regulated, writes Steven Sheridan, AHBRA Head of Communications and Performance.
For such a significant change to be successful it was important that AHBRA’s powers and functions were introduced on a phased basis. Primarily this was to allow AHBRA to build an effective organisation from the ground up, including the development of an appropriate regulatory framework. Crucially, it provided AHBs time to fully understand the requirements as laid out in the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Act 2019 and to prepare for the introduction of statutory regulation.
In early July 2022, Minister for Housing Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien signed the commencement order providing AHBRA with its remaining powers and functions. This means AHBRA now has the ability to monitor and assess AHBs and carry out investigations into the affairs of AHBs, where it is considered appropriate.
AHBRA’s regulatory functions
This signals a shift from the establishment and development phase of AHBRA, as an independent regulatory body, to a more ‘business-as-usual’ model of regulatory oversight, which includes the introduction of our approach for the monitoring and assessment of AHBs.
All of AHBRA’s activities are rooted firmly in our functions, powers and strategic objectives as outlined in the Statement of Strategy 2021-2024:
- reliable and efficient AHB Registration Framework;
- proportionate standards and compliance frameworks;
- consistent and effective communication with our stakeholders;
- transparent and consistent risk-based regulation; and
- an agile, flexible, and accountable organisation.
AHBRA’s regulatory framework sets out our overall approach to the oversight of AHBs. It includes the registration of AHBs, the Standards for AHBs, monitoring and assessing compliance, education and guidance, promotion and awareness of the Act, and the collection and publication of information, as appropriate.
This will evolve over time as we gather information and data from registered AHBs and use this to identify and evaluate risk trends. This will enable informed decision-making on the application of our regulatory functions, including our monitoring and assessment frameworks.
The Register of AHBs
On 1 January 2022, all organisations that held AHB status and were listed on the register maintained by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) were deemed to be registered with AHBRA in line with Section 34 of the Act. All deemed AHBs are subject to the Act.
Currently, there are 450 organisations listed on the AHB Register which can be found on the AHBRA website.
The Standards for AHBs
In February 2022, we published the Standards for AHBs, which are an integral part of AHBRA’s overall regulatory framework.
The standards encompass:
- the governance of AHBs;
- the financial management of and financial reporting by AHBs;
- property and asset management by AHBs; and
- tenancy management by AHBs.
The Standards for AHBs were developed with input from the AHB sector and a wide range of key stakeholders. They establish a set of outcomes that AHBs are required to achieve. These outcome-based standards allow for greater flexibility and are a recognition of the diversity within the sector. Additionally, we have published a suite of guidance documents to support the standards. These aim to help AHBs better understand the standards and provide useful advice on how organisations can demonstrate compliance.
The Standards for AHBs do not stand alone, they form an integral part of the overall regulatory approach and the application of risk-based regulation.
Monitoring and assessment of AHBs
AHBRA recently launched its Annual Monitoring and pilot assessment programmes for 2022. This incorporates a risk-based approach to regulation which ensures that AHBRA’s regulatory approach is appropriate, measured, and proportionate.
AHBs are requested to submit a range of data and information relating to their organisation’s activities. The information and data captured will be used by AHBRA to consolidate sector wide information, identify risk trends, influence educational and guidance programmes, and inform our assessment programme(s).
AHBRA is currently conducting a pilot assessment programme involving a small number of AHBs who were selected to take part. The pilot programme is a vital component in the development of AHBRA’s overall assessment framework, allowing AHBRA the opportunity to test and evaluate the effectiveness of its internal policies and procedures, and to receive constructive feedback from those AHBs involved. We will launch the formal assessment programme in 2023.
AHBRA published its notifiable events guidance in May 2022. All AHBs are required to inform AHBRA of changes or events which may have a serious or significant impact on their organisation. These are known as notifiable events and more information relating to such events are outlined on the AHBRA website.
Statutory regulation and oversight of the AHB sector is now firmly underway. The changes being affected by AHBRA, as we implement the regulatory framework, will require increased awareness and understanding by all AHBs. This will enable organisations to demonstrate and evidence compliance with the Standards for AHBs.
The annual monitoring, assessment programme, and the notifiable events process are all examples of the new responsibilities for AHBs, as we begin to embed our regulatory functions in the new statutory environment. AHBs should continue to ensure they engage with the regulatory framework, participate in the educational and guidance webinars conducted by AHBRA and utilise all published advice and guidance.