March 17, 2010
Bigger doesn’t mean better
One of the bewildering contradictions in Scottish housing is the plight of the community based housing associations – consistently praised as a model of best practice in community led regeneration but at the same time, appearing to be forever under threat. The civil servants drafting the new Housing Bill seem convinced that Scotland has too many housing associations and that ‘fewer and bigger’ would be more efficient. The umbrella body for community based HA’s argues that this analysis over simplifies a complex issue
Call for Views on the Housing (Scotland) Bill
Submission to the Local Government and Communities
Committee of the Scottish Parliament
Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations
1. About this Paper
1.1 GWSF represents community‐based housing associations (CBHAs), with members in
Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire.
1.2 This paper is our response to the Committee’s call for views on the Housing
(Scotland) Bill. Our partners EVH (the leading support body for housing association
employers) and SHARE (the sector’s leading provider of learning and development) have
also endorsed this response on behalf of their respective memberships.
1.3 CBHAs have been transforming housing and the physical environment in many of
Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities for the last 30 years:
We are community‐owned organisations, led by local people;
We aim to provide good housing in strong communities;
Our services are responsive to local needs and our housing investment has proved to be
2. The Housing (Scotland) Bill: GWSF’s Top 5 Issues
2.1 This submission addresses five aspects of the Bill, focusing mainly on the proposals
relating to housing regulation. The Bill’s significance is far wider than ensuring a good deal
for tenants, which everyone would support. Wider policy agendas will determine how the
new Scottish Housing Regulator applies the powers it would have under the Bill, which
could have major implications for CBHAs and our local communities.
2.2 There is a view in some quarters that Scotland has “too many housing associations”
and that mergers and restructuring of CBHAs would produce greater efficiency. Stretching
scarce resources in the current climate is clearly vital. But we do not accept that CBHAs are
less efficient than large landlords, and we are concerned that the Bill could be used to
fundamentally re‐structure the Scottish housing association sector. This is on the agenda of
some policy‐makers, but is not a priority for tenants or local communities.
3. Issue 1: The Scottish Social Housing Charter
3.1 GWSF will contribute actively to future consultation about the Charter. Based on
present information, we have the following comments:
a) Section 32 of the Bill gives examples of the outcomes the Charter might describe.
These relate to “bricks and mortar” and traditional housing services issues.
Many CBHAs are increasingly involved in wider regeneration activities. The Charter
should be much more explicit about the role that housing providers can play in making
neighbourhoods safe, popular and sustainable places. And in providing support to help
vulnerable people live within their local communities. The new system of regulation
should be explicit in reporting the social and economic value of these wider activities.
b) The Bill proposes that landlords should deliver both national and local outcomes for
National outcomes could help promote higher standards for tenants. But they also need
to be consistent with our strong Scottish traditions of localism. We want to be clear
whether the Charter will represent the full extent of Government’s expectations of
CBHAs – or whether there will be additional requirements on other policy subjects.
Local housing associations do not want to be simply delivery agents for government
policy. The Bill is an ideal opportunity for the Government to review its relationships
with us, as it has already done with local authorities and the third sector.
c) Rather than simplifying regulation, the Bill will create more complexity.
Current regulatory standards are set out in one document (“Performance Standards”).
But the Bill and Policy Memorandum describe multiple layers of standards and guidance.
This will not deliver the simplification recommended by the Crerar Review.1 The added
complexity is a key issue for both tenants and smaller landlords ‐ less than half of
Scotland’s housing associations employ 20 or more office‐based staff. Overall, the
Charter and the new system of regulation need to reflect the housing associations we
have, not those that some national policy‐makers would like to create.
d) Parliament would set standards for housing through the Charter, with the Scottish
Housing Regulator assessing landlords’ performance. Whereas for housing association
governance and finances, the SHR would set standards and assess performance.
This dual approach is not logical. CBHAs also have strong concerns about views
expressed by the present SHR on housing association governance and mergers.2
Ministers should lead in making policy in these areas, with accountability to Parliament.
4. Issue 2: The Role and Functions of the New Scottish Housing Regulator
4.1 The new SHR would have the objective of safeguarding and promoting the
interests of current and future tenants and of homeless people.
We fully support this objective. Protecting individuals’ interests is important if landlords are
not getting basic housing services right. But many tenants get a good housing service from
their landlord, and are more concerned about wider problems in their neighbourhoods.
Tenants often look to their local housing association to address these concerns. This will
increase in future, if local authorities have to curtail neighbourhood services. So it is vital to
sustain recent growth in wider community services provided by housing associations.
The Bill can help, by recognising that social housing is about neighbourhoods and
communities, as well as individuals. The housing regulator in England has a statutory duty
to encourage housing providers to address the environmental, social and economic well
being of their areas. We would like the new SHR to have a similar duty, and for the new
system of regulation to reflect the work many CBHAs do in addressing these wider needs.
We would also like the new SHR to have a duty to promote and assist community‐owned
housing associations. This would be a practical demonstration of the Government’s
existing policy on community empowerment. It would also give regulation an additional,
more positive purpose, by requiring the new SHR to work in partnership with tenants and
community landlords to raise standards. Such a duty would not diminish the SHR’s ability to
address cases where individual landlords are failing to meet standards.
4.2 The new SHR would have a duty to act proportionately, transparently and
accountably. These are good principles, but their application is the critical test.
More thinking and further checks and balances are essential, if the SHR’s duty to act
proportionately, transparently and accountably is to be more than just a broad aspiration.
It is not clear how the new SHR would be accountable to Parliament, even though it would
have very wide‐ranging powers and would be independent from Ministers. There need to
be clear boundaries for the new SHR’s role in policy‐making for the housing association
sector, to limit the kind of policy kite‐flying seen in the SHR’s “Shaping Up for Improvement”
report (for example, on mergers, restructuring and competition). Section 5 of the Bill will “filter” the SHR’s role in scrutinising local authority landlords. Is it right that housing associations should experience more intensive regulation?
The SHR has a legitimate role in regulating housing associations’ governance and finances.
But we would like to see the proposals for RSLs compared with the scrutiny and
intervention powers for these areas that apply in other sectors, (e.g. local authorities; the
charitable and third sectors; and PPP projects). Are housing associations a “special case”?
Or should there be some consistency across different sectors, as Crerar recommended?
The Bill is a broad framework, not a blueprint of future processes. The SHR would have
substantial freedom to decide regulatory processes as well as interventions in particular
cases. While it would have a duty to consult on guidance, there will always be varied
opinions among stakeholders, meaning that the SHR’s views are likely to be decisive in
practice. Instead of this, we would like to see a more balanced approach, with tenants and
social landlords as well as the Regulator being equal partners.
5. Issue 3: Conditions attached to being a Registered Social Landlord (RSL)
5.1 The Bill would repeal existing provisions about the permitted activities of RSLs and
how they are constituted. Instead, these matters would be described in orders laid before
Parliament by Ministers. These are fundamental issues, but no information has been given
about what kind of changes the Government may have in mind or its underlying policy aims.
The Policy Memorandum says that registration as a social landlord in Scotland would be
opened up to providers from other EU member states. The likeliest outcome is that very
large UK‐wide RSLs will seek registration in Scotland, particularly if they see opportunities to
mop up local housing associations through mergers and restructuring. This would replicate
developments in England, where RSL group structures owning tens of thousands of houses
across unrelated areas are now commonplace. It would be completely at odds with
Scotland’s very different tradition of smaller, community‐owned landlords. Do Scottish
tenants really want landlords controlled by large organisations with head offices hundreds
of miles away? And are these the best partners for Scottish local authorities?
5.2 The Committee may wish to make comparisons with the position in Wales. Recent
legislation restricts registration as a social landlord in Wales to Welsh bodies with their
registered office in Wales and which are “principally concerned with Welsh housing”. We
would like to know why similar provisions could not apply in Scotland.
6. Issue 4: Amendments to the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006
6.1 This aspect of the Bill affects a number of CBHAs working in neighbourhoods with
significant levels of poor quality private housing and/or private landlords who do not meet
their legal obligations. In Glasgow, for example, these issues are particularly prevalent in a
number of communities in the south side of the city.
6.2 We support the case made by Glasgow City Council in 2009 to strengthen the
existing legislation. But key aspects of the City Council’s submissions are not reflected in
the Bill.1 Financial pressures also mean that the City Council does not have the staffing
levels needed to manage private landlord enforcement or disrepair issues as it would wish.
6.3 The 2006 Act has been ineffective in areas where there are concentrations of poor
housing owned by private landlords. For example, Govanhill Housing Association’s current
petition to the Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee describes truly appalling slum
conditions that are intensified by poor private landlord practice and acute social problems.
6.4 The solutions to these problems lie in adequate resources for implementing the
housing renewal area powers in the 2006 Act (which have been largely unused), and in
strengthening the statutory framework for applying the powers. For example, by allowing
sub‐standard properties in these areas to be purchased by housing associations for future
improvement, at market value less future improvement costs. This would enable the
comprehensive physical and social regeneration that is so urgently needed.
7. Issue 5: Right to Buy (RTB) Reforms
7.1 Most GWSF members indicated last year that they supported the proposed RTB
reforms, including the new proposal to restrict the RTB for all new tenancies. Equally, the
RTB has given local people in some areas more choice and greater access to home
ownership. So we would like to see other measures brought forward specifically to help
promote more mixed communities in areas where there is limited choice. These measures
could be promoted through the Affordable Housing Investment Programme (AHIP) and are
not dependent on new legislation.
8.1 GWSF hopes that all of the political parties will help us defend and promote the
unique role that CBHAs play in providing good housing within strong, empowered
communities throughout Scotland. We have restricted this submission to the broad
matters covered by the Bill, rather than the detail. We would be pleased to provide the
Committee with further evidence or information, as its scrutiny of the Bill proceeds.
Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations
2 March 2010