Andrew Watson: The Scottish Housing Regulator meets with rural and islands landlords
Scottish Housing Regulator vice chair Andrew Watson summarises the August meeting of the Regulator’s Rural and Islands Landlord group.
Last month we met with the standing group which brings together senior leaders from Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) that operate primarily in rural areas and the islands. Our conversation concentrated on the questions in the discussion paper we issued in June on the review of the Regulatory Framework. This blog sets out the main points from that conversation
We firstly discussed the proposed regulatory priorities. There was general agreement with these, with participants also emphasising the importance of affordable warmth and net zero in social housing, and suggesting that these should also be reflected in the priorities. Participants also felt that there needs to be clarity around the ask of RSLs on homelessness and that value for money for tenants should feature more explicitly in the priorities.
With regard to seeking assurance on specific topics in the Annual Assurance Statement, there was general agreement that this could be useful, providing that it wasn’t overused and, more importantly, that sufficient notice was given of the area(s) on which specific assurance would be sought, to enable landlords to plan accordingly.
The group then turned to the indicators in the Annual Return on the Charter (ARC), and in particular possible indicators around landlord performance in responding to reports by tenants of dampness and mould. All participants highlighted the complexity of the issues around damp and mould, and suggested that even the language was complex – with damp, mould, condensation and ventilation being a title that more accurately describes all the elements that can impact on the problem. Participants recognised the challenges in identifying meaningful indicators for this, not least given the diversity of house types within and across social landlords, and suggested taking time to work with a group of informed people from the sector to develop an effective monitoring approach. Participants also expect a significant shift in the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing to emerge from the Scottish Government’s review, and felt it would be important to take time to get the associated ARC measures right.
We agreed on the need for specific indicators on the key aspects of tenant and resident safety. Participants highlighted the rural context for such measures, including safety in relation to private water supplies and water sourced from boreholes. We touched on the implications of heat pumps and safety around legionella. We also discussed existing indicators, with participants commenting that the right-first-time repairs indicators was overly complex, that tenancy sustainment needed refined to reflect positive reasons for tenancies ending, and that the indicators on anti-social behaviour and adaptations are of limited value. Some hope was expressed that any additional ARC indicators could be balanced by the deletion of unnecessary ones.
Participants had no particular views on amendments to the Regulatory Status, Notifiable Events or the Significant Performance Failure process. Participants felt the current approaches on these were clear, and it will be important to keep them as simple and easy to understand as possible.
We spoke about strengthening the emphasis on listening to tenants in the Regulatory Framework. Participants broadly agreed with this, while emphasising that traditional approaches to tenant participation are not always appropriate or successful, and that different forms of engagement with tenants may work better with “little and often” preferred by many tenants. All agreed that the important outcome was for governing body members to hear the tenant voice.
More broadly, participants highlighted the continuing challenges for social landlords and their tenants from the wider economic conditions and from increasing requirements on landlords, including those around net zero. We also discussed the potential for requirements around policies on domestic abuse to feature in a future version of the Regulatory Framework when proposed new legislation is in place.
We agreed that discussion at the next meeting of the group should be on rent setting and on the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing, if the revised standard is available at that time. These are the same topics identified by the urban landlord group to discuss at its next meeting.
The Rural & Island Group is made up of:
- Michelle Meldrum, Berwishire Housing Association
- Simon Fitzpatrick, Blackwood Homes and Care
- Neil Clapperton, Lochalsh & Skye Housing Association
- Nile Istephan, Elidon Housing Association
- Iona MacPhail, Fyne Homes
- Bryan Leask, Hjaltland Housing Association
- Margaret Moynihan, Lochaber Housing Association
- Craig Spence, Orkney Housing Association
- Stacy Angus, Osprey Housing
- Donna Birrell, Rural Stirling Housing Association