Black’s Blog: Tigers and camels … chatting with the Scottish Housing Regulator

Black's Blog: Tigers and camels … chatting with the Scottish Housing Regulator

Jimmy Black and Kieran Findlay spent half an hour with the Regulator chatting about dampness and mould, tenant participation, homelessness, small RSLs, big landlords helping little landlords, the private sector and meeting the net zero challenge.

A few years back there was a book and a movie where a shipwrecked sailor had to share a small boat with a large and ferocious tiger. I won’t reveal the ending, but for much of the time, the two got on very well.

Would meeting Michael Cameron and Helen Shaw from the Scottish Housing Regulator be in any way similar to sharing a boat with a tiger? They’re not likely to eat you but they do have teeth. They can remove board members from RSLs, insist that they transfer their assets to other organisations and, at a more mundane level, make them comply with many regulations.

Given that RSLs are private, autonomous organisations with their own management boards and members, the level of control which the Regulator can exert might seem surprising. But RSLs have very serious responsibilities. Incompetence, fraud or reckless management by landlords has a heavy impact on the lives of their tenants.

So we need a Regulator; and it makes obvious sense to stop things going wrong rather than reacting after the event. That’s what all the policies, rules and regulations are for; prevention rather than cure.

But the more rules there are, the less autonomy local management boards can have and the more time and effort RSLs need to spend on compliance. In turn that spawns a legion of consultants and some might argue that the job becomes less about housing people and more about understanding the rules and trying to follow them.

Every five years there has to be a review of how SHR regulates the sector, and the consultation period ends on 11 August. Affordability, dampness, tenants’ safety generally and homelessness are high priorities as are tenant involvement and consultation by landlords. When RSLs are assessed against regulatory requirements, should there be something in between “compliant” and “non-compliant”? Should there be a period of stability without any radical changes to regulation, as some RSLs desire?

Landlords who have responded so far include Manor Estates HA and Grampian HA; also Highland Council. The Scottish Tenants Organisation weighed in with a demand for much tighter regulation. The gist of their response is that regulation with a light touch means letting RSLs do what they want.

An individual responder calls for simplification, and points out that “the camel’s back is not yet broken” but much more extra work will “cause the camel harm eventually.” I think this person’s a board member.

Kieran and I put a whole bunch of questions to Michael and Helen, and they answered all of them; they stressed the importance of tenant involvement, spoke about their National Panel, flagged up the financial challenges of meeting net zero and considered whether and how we should gather statistics on dampness and mould.

They pointed out that organisations which are well run and compliant will have very little contact with them; and they also saw the value in well run associations supporting smaller organisations to ensure compliance. They have been working with the SFHA and others to see how this could be done.

One of their more intriguing replies was around their possible role in regulating the private sector. You’ll need to listen to the podcast to find out what they said.

For the avoidance of doubt, Michael and Helen are not at all like tigers. Their role is defined by government and they understand the challenges RSLs, and local authorities, face. They are very keen to hear from the sector and the final question in the consultation is … “Are there any other changes to the Regulatory Framework and associated guidance that you would suggest?”

So now is the time for those who have positive ideas for change to step forward. Camels, reveal yourselves. The consultation ends on 11 August.

The Scottish Housing News Podcast is co-hosted by Kieran Findlay and Jimmy Black. All episodes are available here as well as on the following platforms:

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