3. Monitoring and regulation
This chapter covers responses to the questions on proposed approaches to monitoring and regulation of Temporary Accommodation Standards. It covers:
- The role of the housing regulator
- Monitoring approaches
- Supporting local authorities to comply with standards
- Experiences of raising issues and seeking solutions
The role of the housing regulator
Section 2 Question 11: The performance of local authorities against their obligation to comply with the UAO will continue to be monitored, including any extension if introduced, by the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) as part of its role in assessing performance on discharging of their statutory duties.
Section 4 Question 5: In line with the HARSAG recommendation, we also envisage a role for the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) in monitoring and assessing performance in meeting new standards. Do you agree that it would be appropriate for SHR to take on this role utilising their current powers or by extending their current powers? Please explain your answer.
Across responses it was evident that respondents considered a regulatory function to be necessary. There was also general agreement that it is appropriate for SHR to continue in this role. No respondents argued for the creation of a new body to undertake this work. However, many different points of view were evident about the way SHR undertakes its work, and its powers.
Responses to the quantitative question on enhanced responsibilities for the regulator showed a roughly even split in terms of whether or not respondents felt these were necessary. The most common response to this question was that the SHR currently has the powers it needs to fulfil the required remit. Within responses to this question, several called for the SHR to take more action and utilise its existing powers. For example, one noted that the SHR had not, so far, been used to ensure that all temporary accommodation met current legal standards and felt this pointed to a need for change in the way it operates.
A smaller but sizeable number of respondents felt that changes to the remit of SHR and its regulatory powers were needed to undertake this role effectively. Several commented on the self-monitoring approach currently in place, suggesting this would need to evolve. One respondent used this as the basis of an argument for greater powers for the SHR 'which would enable them to appropriately monitor, assess and most importantly, take affirmative action when local authorities fail to fulfil their duties'.
Some said they needed more information about what the proposed role would entail before coming to a view.
Different monitoring approaches
In considering monitoring and enforcing new standards for temporary accommodation, respondents were provided with an outline of the proposed approach, shown below:
Section 4 Question 1: HARSAG recommended we work with the Scottish Housing Regulator to explore options for enforcing new TA standards. In order to enforce standards it is likely this will need to be achieved through the introduction of legislation. We propose that rather than trying to create legislation that seeks to set a uniform standard across all types and tenures of temporary accommodation, that we develop a standards framework that recognises the existing legislation and regulation and seeks to fill in the gaps, utilising appropriate legislative mechanisms. Do you agree with this approach? Please explain your answer.
Section 4 Question 2: We want to better understand how local authorities currently monitor the standard of temporary accommodation that is used to place homeless households. Please can you tell us what sort of processes and procedures are in place to:
- assess the standards of these types of property;
- address issues where standards are not being met;
- monitor ongoing issues.
Respondents were firstly asked to indicate whether they agreed with this approach or not. Most respondents agreed, with only a few disagreeing and the remainder not answering the question. The same pattern was evident across all types of stakeholders.
Secondly, respondents were invited to explain their answer. Most common among those who agreed with the approach was support for the proposals as being the most appropriate approach to reach the desired goal. Within this, comments included that it may be a quicker or more efficient approach, as it recognised existing legislation and frameworks, represented best use of resources and allowed for some flexibility for local variation.
Many provided comments on other actions which they believed were required to achieve the desired changes. These included a need to ensure the framework guarantees a high standard of temporary accommodation and to consider how to communicate the changes in a clear and accessible way. A small number noted local authorities would need time adapt to changes; that new standards should join up with other relevant standards; and that there should be a clear enforcement process.
A few raised potential problems with the suggested approach. Three local authorities described the challenges of complying with standards in rural areas, the potential for the process of developing standards to become 'piecemeal and laborious' and the potential for the new standards to be counter-productive should additional time and resource be required implementing the standards. Contrary to these views, another concern – raised by an advocacy organisation – was that the current issue is the failure of local authorities to implement standards, rather than the standards themselves.
Reasons given by those who disagreed with the approach included a fear that a standards framework was not sufficient, and a call for one standard to be created. There were some suggestions for further actions to drive change, including for the incorporation of the standards into legislation and subject to further consultation.
Current monitoring practices
In order to better understand how local authorities currently monitor the standard of temporary accommodation, respondents were asked to explain the process and procedures they were aware of. A wide range of approaches were described.
The most common theme was the use of visits, inspections and checks to properties. These take a number of forms. For example, many mentioned regular monitoring of properties. Respondents referred to regular, cyclical, monthly or quarterly or monitoring, with a few referencing how these inspections highlight issues which are then fed into performance management frameworks. A small number also highlighted differences by type of accommodation e.g. routine inspections for B&Bs and weekly checks for repairs in hostels and supported accommodation.
Many also highlighted the role of more formal annual or other inspections by staff. Similarly, these are used to highlight repair issues including the replacement of white goods and for health and safety checks.
Related to this, several discussed exit or void checks. Where discussed, respondents outlined the use of these to assess state of repair, decoration standards, quality and condition of furniture and fittings, cleanliness and safety. Finally, a small number mentioned the inventory process and property checklists.
Second most common in comments on current monitoring practices were references to meeting existing standards, including Scottish Housing Quality Standard, Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing and Shelter standards.
Another prevalent theme was the use of customer/tenant feedback or surveys. Where specified, these tended to be conducted on leaving the property, rather than during the stay.
Related to this, a few also highlighted engaging with tenants or ensuring that staff support tenants. These included regular meetings with representatives from services connected to homelessness, a culture of regular feedback and approachable staff, giving notice of access requirements and supporting people as they move on to permanent accommodation.
Some also discussed the role of specialist local authority staff. These included housing management teams who procure, manage and maintain the stock, building repairs and maintenance teams and mentions of temporary accommodation and homelessness teams. A few also mentioned HMO licensing.
Other minor themes mentioned by a small number of respondents included: the role of the Care Inspectorate in inspecting relevant properties; the complaints process and investigating complaints on standards; meetings and reviews with contractors to ensure compliance; the role of the SHR; and reflections on variation across different local authorities, and that they should be entrusted to ensure their own arrangements are in place and effective.
Other approaches to ensuring new standards are implemented
Section 4 Question 4: Please tell us about any other approaches or options that you consider are appropriate to implement to ensure that local authorities adhere to new temporary accommodation standards.
In addition to outlining existing processes and procedures, respondents were also invited to comment on other approaches or options which could be considered to ensure local authorities adhere to new temporary accommodation standards. Most respondents responded to the question. A small number of these referred to their previous answer in relation to existing processes.
The most common theme in responses was the need to provide additional funding or support to local authorities or registered social landlords to help them adhere to the new standards.
Some also highlighted the need to involve service users or advocacy organisations. This included encouraging those with lived experience to inspect properties and a potential role for advocacy organisations in co-ordinating this, seeking service user feedback and employing people with lived experience or a knowledge of homelessness. One person gave the example of the Scottish Health Council's 'Our Voice' initiative.
Some reflected on the role of the SHR in relation to inspections. Within this one respondent mentioned registering temporary accommodation with the Care Inspectorate.
Related to this, a few mentioned the role of the Scottish Housing Regulator in a scrutiny role, with one noting that for them to do this in a robust manner there is a need for physical inspections and meeting with service users. A few also mentioned the need for sufficient time to make changes.
Other themes mentioned by small numbers of respondents included sharing good practice and the need for flexible approaches depending on local context. Two local authorities referred to RRTP – one that the implementation of new standards should be incorporated into RRTPs and the other that this seen as a separate exercise. Two respondents suggested a committee and/or the housing minister should have powers to hold local authorities to account.
Singular responses included moving away from private sector provision so that resources can be invested in the longer term, identifying new accommodation supplies including community hosting, a review of data collected by homelessness and temporary accommodation forms HL1 and HL3, and changing the definition of unsuitable accommodation. One advocacy organisation made the specific point that the current route for enforcement of the existing standards is through judicial review, and recommended an alternative route, suggesting a role for the Housing and Property Tribunal. A local authority commented that current approaches and sufficient.
Supporting local authorities to adopt new standards
Section 3 Question 5: Do you have suggestions on how local authorities could/should be supported or encouraged to adopt the new standards for temporary accommodation?
The consultation invited respondents to comment on how local authorities could be supported or encouraged to adopt the new standards for temporary accommodation. A number of themes were identified, some of which echoed suggestions for encouraging compliance with the Unsuitable Accommodation Order.
Most frequently mentioned were calls for guidance, the sharing of good practice and learning networks. This included suggestions for websites, guides, training, events such as CIH forums and roadshows, and visits to local authorities who are excelling in adopting the new standards. There was also a suggestion for a single point of accountability for local authorities. One advocacy organisation suggested the SHR convenes a Temporary Accommodation task force where local authorities can access this advice and share best practice.
The second most common theme included calls for an increase in the housing stock or other non-financial support for housing providers. Some of these comments highlighted the differing challenges for local authorities and the need for support to help them plan to meet their specific local contexts.
Related to this, many also called for increased financial resources. This included both funding to increase the volume of housing stock and to improve the standard of existing accommodation.
One response from a local authority gave a number of options for how additional funding could be sourced, including adjustments to the Local Housing Allowance, levelling/capping of private sector rents or an increase in mid-market rents in pressurised areas to make the private rental market more affordable to those on low incomes, a bigger commitment from private house builders to provide a portion of affordable housing and renovation grants to bring properties currently failing the new standards up to standard including technological standards.
One respondent made the specific point that local authorities should not pass the cost of meeting the standards back to service users and increase the cost of temporary accommodation.
Several respondents commented that plans to adopt the new standards should be incorporated in, or aligned with, RRTPs. However, a small number of comments raised the issue of timescales of doing this.
Several also highlighted the need for enhanced or appropriate regulation. Respondents often cited the role of the Scottish Housing Regulator, with a small number calling for them to have a robust regulation regime which includes inspection and speaking to service users. The role of Audit Scotland and Scottish Government were also mentioned.
A small number expressed a view that including the standards within the Code of Guidance will be enough to encourage local authorities to adopt them. There were also comments from local authorities which expressed confidence that the standards would be achieved given their compliance with existing standards.
Another minor theme mentioned by a small number was calls for sufficient time for implementation. One singular response was that the standards need to be enforceable.
Lived experience of raising issues and seeking solutions
Lived Experience Question 13: How easy was it to raise any issues or problems about the standard of your accommodation and get things fixed?
A) Very easy
B) Quite easy
C) Not easy
Lived Experience Question 14: Would having a set of Scottish Government standards for temporary accommodation help you raise any problems you face with your accommodation?
- Would sanctions provide an appropriate mechanism to encourage compliance?
- If so, what sanction would you consider to be an appropriate one?
Examples shared by people with lived experience highlighted the challenges of raising issues or problems about the standards of temporary accommodation and of getting things fixed. Most indicated that, in their experience, this was 'not easy'. Most of those with lived experience agreed that a set of Scottish Government standards for temporary accommodation would help them raise any problems with their accommodation.
Respondents suggested that such an approach would ensure high standards are set and maintained and would provide a useful reference point. One individual highlighted a need for an independent body to deal with complaints. Another described the anxiety of being young and homeless and said they were unsure of the value of a set of standards in helping those in need to seek assistance.