Craig Stirrat: Consideration must be given to housing qualification requirements

Craig Stirrat: Consideration must be given to housing qualification requirements

Craig Stirrat

As the sector counts down to Scottish Housing Day and the new Housing Bill around the corner, Grampian Housing Association Group CEO Craig Stirrat said a requirement for housing qualifications must at least be in the conversation.

Scottish Housing Day will take place on Wednesday 13 September 2023. The day is intended to raise awareness of the challenges and successes in the housing sector and this year, for Scottish Housing Day, we are celebrating housing as a career. To support this, the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland has established a cross-sector Housing Education Group, chaired by Amanda Britain, to promote the benefits of housing qualifications.

This cannot come at a more appropriate time as a crisis of confidence is looming in the social rented sector, much due to regular adverse media coverage (mainly in England) about service failures by social landlords, perpetuating the perception that social housing is not a desirable housing option for many home seekers.

Consequently, there is increased attention and scrutiny of what goes on, as a great deal is expected of the social rented sector - with the expectation that the sector delivers the highest standard of services and housing standards in the most equitable way - whilst keeping rents as affordable as possible.

The goal to provide the highest standard of affordable homes is being delivered by many (often hard-pressed) capable and committed housing practitioners - but many without the requirement to attain professional status or appropriate qualifications despite the requirement of Regulatory Standard 6 requiring the governing body and senior officers of a social landlord to have the skills and knowledge they need to be effective. This requirement is left to each individual registered landlord to assess what these requirements may be.

Conversely, it has been recognised by the Scottish Government that in the private sector, to register as a letting agent, you have to make sure that everyone in your business has the correct training and have a relevant qualification covering essential aspects of letting agency work. To register as a social landlord there is not the same requirement.

As a lifelong Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and as a member of the cross-sector CIH Scotland Housing Education Group, I have to ask then why is this not a requirement of a social landlord or at least a regulatory guidance?

Like many, I believe, attaining professional standards in social housing helps to

  • Protect the public
  • Maintain public confidence in the profession
  • Declare and uphold professional standards
  • Set out the threshold standards necessary to protect the public
  • Set clear expectations of practitioners working in Registered Social Landlords’ knowledge and abilities when they start practicing
  • Ensure that practitioners continue to meet the standards of proficiency that apply to the Chartered Institute of Housing scope of work and code of practice
  • Assist practitioners and tenants around decisions of appropriate service support for specific circumstances
  • Support and inspire professional learning, CPD and career development.
  • Raise the profile of the sector and the range of career opportunities across the sector
  • Expand on the knowledge and skill set of colleagues by providing opportunities to diversify

Whilst many colleagues throughout the United Kingdom consider that what is happening in England is a knee-jerk reaction to the housing scandals and not necessarily the panacea for all ills (clearly it is not and I agree it is not), it has been recognised in England that professional standards and qualifications are part of the solution (certainly the values, code of practice and leadership skills that are afforded by membership of the CIH play a big part too).

I understand consultation on the application of the law on the required housing qualifications in England is expected by the end of this year and we expect to see the requirements come into place near the end of 2024.

I certainly would welcome colleagues’ views on this, as here in Scotland we enter a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the final stages of the new Housing Bill. Currently, Scottish Government officials are neither convinced nor dismissive of the concept but suggest that capacity constraints limited their ability to consider this in the remainder of this Parliamentary term.

I, therefore, consider that ahead of the English consultation outcome - even if it is just to accept the principle of the requirement for professional standards and the status of housing practitioners - consideration should be given to establishing the membership of a Scottish Government working group with a broad term of reference to address this issue from a Scottish perspective.

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