CIH Scotland interviews Scottish Housing Regulator chair George Walker

In this new interview for CIH Scotland, George Walker, chair of the Scottish Housing Regulator, offers his thoughts on the new regulatory framework for social housing which came into force in April 2019.

CIH Scotland interviews Scottish Housing Regulator chair George Walker

George Walker

Q1. Can you explain to our members what you see as the main changes, challenges and opportunities for social landlords with this new regulatory framework and why you have made such changes?

Our new framework went live in April after a really constructive and engaging consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including tenants, landlords, representative bodies and funders.

The main change landlords will be thinking about right now are the new Annual Assurance Statements due in October.

Other important changes are our new engagement plans for every social landlord, and a new regulatory status for every RSL from April next year. These set out our judgement of how landlords are complying with regulatory requirements.

Our new framework is designed to promote a culture of assurance, openness and transparency. The changes are designed to help board and committee members of landlords get the assurance they need that their organisation is well run and delivers good outcomes for tenants, people who are homeless and others who use their services.

Q2. The new regulatory framework has clear focus on equalities and human rights and requirement for landlords to demonstrate how they are meeting these obligations and promoting the interests of tenants and other service users. How can human rights be practically embedded within the new framework and how do you expect to support landlords to meet their obligations in this area?

This is a really important issue for us. Equalities and human rights are about treating everyone fairly and with dignity and respect. And promoting equalities and human rights is integral to all of our work.

We believe it is right for us to have a strong emphasis on this through our Regulatory Framework. It was great to see that most respondents to our consultation agreed this.

As you say, all social landlords must fully comply with human rights and equalities legislation. It’s important that they have clear guidance to help them do this.

So we’re working with the sector to develop a new equalities and human rights guidance framework. To allow time for this, we will begin assessing landlords’ compliance on equalities and human rights from 1 April 2021.

Q3. One of the new aspects of the framework is the development of self-assurance statement and you are working with the SFHA, ALACHO and GWSF in developing a new toolkit to support governing board members to drive self-assurance in their organisations. What was the rationale for this focus on self assurance and what can you tell CIH members about the toolkit?

Self-Assurance is an important part of governance in any organisation. That’s why we’ve put it at the heart of our regulatory approach.

The new, sector-led, Self-Assurance Toolkit is available now on the SFHA website and on ours. The aim of the Toolkit is to help landlords build on existing strengths and to improve their existing frameworks of assurance. And I should give a plug also to our Assurance Statement guidance and frequently asked questions, both of which are available on our website.

We’ll continue to work with SFHA, GWSF, ALACHO and others to develop the toolkit further as a useful resource for all social landlords. We’ll also look to build on our own FAQs.

Q4. New Engagement Plans set out how the Regulator will interact with every social landlord. How do you see the relationship and engagement with the landlords changing following the implementation of the new framework? In addition what has been the response from landlords who are unaccustomed to engagement and how do you think the process is being improved in order to build a culture of openness and trust with landlords? Specifically what would you say to social landlords who are reticent to engage proactively with the SHR?

We have always been a risk-based and proportionate regulator. This won’t change. Our new engagement plans are about us being open and transparent about our work with social landlords.

It’s important that landlords engage openly and effectively with us. The vast majority of landlords do. I’d encourage any landlord to speak to their SHR lead officer if they have questions. Bedding in the new framework effectively is a key priority for us this year, and our staff are on hand to assist.

Q5. Staying with the engagement plans, there is seemingly a clear intent to focus on social landlords performance re: homelessness. What was the driver behind this decision and what has been the feedback from social landlords on your prioritisation? What sort of actions will the Regulator take in relation to homelessness?

Some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland use the housing and homelessness services that social landlords provide. It is vital that local authorities and RSLs work together to provide homes quickly for people who need them and that people don’t spend too long in temporary accommodation.

The new policy focus on Rapid Rehousing and Housing First is an important development and landlords are responding to this. We will continue our strong focus on how local authorities and RSLs meet their homelessness duties and how all social landlords deliver good quality homes and services at a price their tenants and service users can afford.

Q6. Finally how would you assess the performance of Scotland’s social landlords and what are you priorities in your role as chair of the SHR?

Last year, our National Report on the Scottish Social Housing Charter showed that, overall, Scotland’s social landlords continued to maintain strong performance across the majority of the Charter standards and outcomes. And they continue to perform well in the areas tenants said matter most: homes and rents, quality of homes and repairs and maintenance. The next Charter reports will be published at the end of August.

Our vision is well-run social landlords delivering what tenants and people who are homeless, Gypsy/Travellers and others who use social housing service need and want, and at a price they can afford to pay.

Over the next three years, our priorities will be to focus on embedding our new Regulatory Framework, value for money, affordable rents, homelessness, tenant and resident safety and governance and financial health in RSLs. These are set out in our new Corporate Plan which we published earlier this year.

The world that social landlords work in has never been more complex, so we will also remain alert and responsive to emerging issues over the next three years. I look forward to continuing to work closely with all our stakeholders to deliver shared goals.

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