Blog: Assessing the impact of the Scottish Social Housing Charter
By Kirsty Wells, head of HouseMark Scotland
The Scottish Social Housing Charter came into force in April 2012. A Scottish Government consultation on the Charter closed on the 24th August with plans in place to introduce a refreshed Charter from 1st April 2017.
The purpose of the Charter is to set out what tenants should expect from their social landlord and to provide a basis for the Scottish Housing Regulator to assess social landlords’ performance in terms of overall tenant satisfaction through the publication of annual reports. It was introduced as part of a Scottish Government drive to improve the quality of landlord services in Scotland and to have a consistent way of measuring the performance of housing associations and councils.
The focus of the Charter is very much on empowering tenants and increasing rates of tenant satisfaction within the social housing sector. However, average tenant satisfaction remained stable across the two years with almost nine in every ten tenants saying they were satisfied with the overall level of service provided by their landlord.
It is really too early to draw any detailed conclusions on any improvements that may have been achieved through a consistent cohort of data since landlords are only required to complete a full-scale satisfaction survey every three years. This means that some landlords have not yet refreshed the data that has been submitted to the Scottish Housing Regulator. However, an increasing number of landlords are moving to rolling surveys every quarter giving them new up-to-date data on tenant satisfaction every three months. At HouseMark, our new benchmarking product STARt also lets our members benchmark their satisfaction results on a quarterly basis.
A comparison of the first two SHR annual reports shows improvements in efficiency of repairs, a noticeable increase in the percentage of properties meeting the Scottish Housing Quality Standard, rising efficiency in the management of rent collection and re-lets and improvement in the successful resolution of cases of anti-social behaviour. On the downside, the reports also showed average rents increasing at a rate higher than inflation.
Improvements in performance have been particularly noticeable from local authority landlords, who started from a lower base in terms of average performance. By comparison, registered social landlords show a higher average level of baseline performance but have shown far less of an improvement year on year.
The overall conclusion must be that the introduction of the Charter has usefully helped to focus landlords on improving their performance in those areas with the greatest overall impact on tenant satisfaction – and this has brought about incremental improvements across many indicators, particularly for local authority landlords. However, our experience of tenant scrutiny activities tells us that while change is happening, it is slower in some organisations than others. At times, tenants still find it difficult to really influence their landlords’ decision-making processes and to enter into meaningful communication about service improvements.
Going forward, there are many emerging challenges that the social housing sector will need to grapple with – energy efficiency and the integration of housing and social care to name but two. But perhaps the even bigger challenge now facing landlords is that of maintaining high tenant satisfaction in the face of tightening budgets and the continuing pressure to fund the delivery of more new social housing. Related to this is continued upward pressure on rents which could have a negative impact on tenants’ satisfaction and their judgement of whether rent levels represent good value for money.
What cannot be in doubt is that the performance of social landlords is under scrutiny like never before. If anything, that scrutiny looks set to intensify further with the launch of the new Charter next year. It is incumbent on social landlords to rise to that challenge and to have a real handle on their performance day-to-day through benchmarking and indepth data analysis. In the face of the multiple challenges the sector now faces, that will be the best way of maintaining tenant satisfaction and making sure that recent improvements in performance don’t slip.