Parliament calls Regulator to account over bullying and governance allegations

MSPs have given the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) one month to respond to concerns regarding its dealings with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), directly citing allegations raised by Scottish Housing News of “heavy handed interventions” and ineffective governance.

Parliament calls Regulator to account over bullying and governance allegations

The convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, James Dornan MSP, has written to the Regulator noting reports of SHR’s alleged “bullying” behaviour and suggestions that important decisions are being taken at an inappropriate level within the organisation.

The letter highlights an article in Scottish Housing News on December 12, 2019 which detailed the “considerable disquiet” within the sector about “heavy handed interventions” by SHR staff. It also refers to a November 14 Freedom of Information request response from the SHR, which states that only one of 12 decisions, since 2014 to take statutory action was sanctioned by the board, with the rest being authorised by a third-tier assistant director.

Scottish Housing News reported at the time that the updates given to the board on the progress of these interventions consisted largely of oral reports.

Mr Dornan noted that the report states views that “the SHR is failing to exercise the rigorous sort of governance it expects of RSLs” and questions “whether SHR is meeting its statutory obligations”. Questions raised about the level of information provided to the board on the statutory action taken were also recognised by MSPs.

The letter goes on to cite two more Scottish Housing News articles as evidence. On December 17, 2019, retired housing association director Bruce Forbes referred to this FOI request and suggested that the SHR is unsure of its regulatory role and powers and claimed that the Regulator was “tearing apart some housing associations for relatively minor errors or indiscretions that could have been easily resolved by constructive dialogue”.

Finally, the Holyrood committee notes that our article on January 8, 2020 sees a former housing association director accuse the SHR of “bullying” behaviour, referring to “many housing association directors and chief executives who are fearful of raising their heads above the parapet to highlight their concerns because they know that if they do, they will be targeted” and that the SHR requires to be scrutinised and held to account, as they do social housing providers.

The convener writes: “We take these concerns seriously, whilst accepting a robust approach to regulation is sometimes necessary. We, therefore, retain an open mind and believe that the SHR should be given the opportunity to formally reply to these concerns.”

The Parliament committee has ordered the Regulator to respond to these reports, including in particular clarification on:

  1. how the SHR seeks to audit the impact of its inspections on RSLs;
  2. how it ensures that its own governance arrangements meet all statutory and best practice requirements;
  3. whether the SHR carries out any cost-benefit analysis of different methods of inspections and the impact they may have on RSL resources and, potentially on tenants; and
  4. how it ensures that the evidence base behind any negative findings about an RSL is clear so that the RSL knows what it has to do to put things right.

The Regulator had previously told Scottish Housing News that it publishes information on how it responds to whistleblowing and reports on each and every statutory intervention.

A spokesperson said: “We have a clear route for anyone who wishes to raise a concern or to complain to us about how we work, and they have the right to take it to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

“We work transparently. We publish an extensive range of information about how we regulate, with guidance and advice for landlords including how we respond to whistleblowing. We also publish a report each time we have used our powers of statutory intervention in a social landlord.”

While acknowledging that organisations are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, the committee has asked for a response by the start of next month.

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