Marieke Dwarshuis: The Regulator’s urban landlord group meets up
Scottish Housing Regulator board member Marieke Dwarshuis shares the deatils from the latest meeting of its urban landlord group.
We meet regularly with three standing groups of senior people from Registered Social Landlords to discuss important and topical issues in social housing in Scotland. Taken together, these groups mean that we have regular discussions with more than forty landlords, which helps us to better understand the challenges faced by, and the concerns of, those we regulate. We plan to refresh the membership of the groups after a year or two, to give other landlords the opportunity to engage with us in this way. In due course we’ll ask for volunteers, but in the meantime do let us know if you are interested in being part of one of the groups.
Last month we met with the group which brings together senior leaders from RSLs based principally in urban areas. We covered a lot of ground in a really constructive and engaging discussion, so here are some of the main points we touched on.
The focus of our conversation was the discussion paper we issued in June on the review of the Regulatory Framework. The discussion started with a clear acknowledgement of the very difficult current context for social housing, and that this is an important backdrop for the review of the Regulatory Framework. Participants highlighted a range of challenges landlords face, such as the scale and frequency of new legislation and standards that impact on the role of social landlords; the increasing burden of responding to Freedom of Information requests, and “role creep” as landlords pick up local services that councils have had to withdraw from.
We worked through the questions set out in the discussion paper. We spent a good chunk of our time talking about possible indicators around landlord performance in responding to reports by tenants of dampness and mould. Everyone recognised the complexity of the issue, the impact on this from increasing levels of fuel poverty, and the need for landlords to have a clear strategy and approach to identify, manage and resolve damp and mould. There was a general consensus that, while such indicators will be necessary, it will be important to have these developed carefully to ensure they measure the right things and tell the full story of landlords’ performance in responding to damp and mould. Participants suggested that, while indicators are being developed, the annual assurance statement could be used to get the necessary assurance on landlords’ approaches, possibly with “lead indicators” such as levels of staff trained on identifying damp and mould and that there is a clear route for tenants to report any problems.
There also was general consensus on the need for specific indicators on the key aspects of tenant and resident safety, although at the same time a recognition that a number of these are subsumed in the SHQS indicator. An interesting idea that emerged from our discussion was that of landlords providing tenants with an indication of the cost for their work to comply with home safety requirements, given that such costs are essential spending by landlords but may not be obvious to tenants. This was not suggested as an indicator for inclusion in the Annual Return on the Charter, rather as a good metric for landlords to use in their discussions with tenants as part of consultations on rent levels.
Participants flagged the Charter indicators on anti-social behaviour, repairs right first time, satisfaction with opportunities to participate, and tenancy sustainment as candidates for review. There was also an ask to consider splitting out the recording of service charges and rent.
There was little appetite amongst the participants for change on the Regulatory Status. Participants felt the current approach was simple and clear, and that the timing was not right for a more significant change to this. There were similar views around Notifiable Events and the process for Significant Performance Failures, with both of these seen as generally effective and appropriate and with any changes needed being more around tidying up minor issues and language.
Broadly speaking, most participants are keen to see a period of stability for social landlords in the coming years, and minimising changes to the Regulatory Framework would help to achieve this.
While the bulk of the discussion focused on the review of the Regulatory Framework, we did range in to wider topics. One such topic touched on an increasingly strident, and at times unpleasant, discourse on social housing in some quarters, including on social media. A number of the landlords highlighted the detrimental impact this is having on tenants and staff of social landlords. This shone a light on the importance of constructive and civil debate, especially during such challenging times as we find ourselves in now.
Participants also highlighted the scale of the challenge around net zero, particularly in meeting the costs to bring their tenants’ homes up to the required standards while keeping rents affordable. All participants expressed a clear view on the need for public subsidy to meet the ambitions on net zero.
We concluded the meeting by agreeing to focus the discussion at the next meeting of the group on rent setting and on the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing, if the revised standard is available at that time.
Urban Landlord Group members include:
- John Davidson - Almond Housing Association
- Gail Robertson - Angus Housing Association
- Lorna Wilson - Barrhead Housing Association
- Nicki Donaldson - Fife Housing Group
- Heather Kiteley - Harbour Homes Scotland
- Irene McFarlane - Linthouse Housing Association
- Susan Bell - Muirhouse Housing Association
- Brian Fowler - Prospect Community Housing
- Shona Stephen - Queens Cross Housing Association
- Martin Nadin - Scottish Veterans Residences
- Tony Teasdale - Shettleston Housing Association
- Jim Munro - Shire Housing Association
- Rhona McLeod - Trust Housing Association