Publication - Research and analysis

Better Dispute Resolution in Housing: Analysis of Responses to the Consultation on the Introduction of a New Housing Panel for Scotland

Published: 17 Jun 2013
Part of:
Research
ISBN:
9781782566335

The research report presents the findings from an analysis of responses to the introduction of a new housing panel for Scotland consultation. The findings show who has responded to the consutlation and the key themes emerging from the responses.

61 page PDF

754.9 kB

61 page PDF

754.9 kB

Contents
Better Dispute Resolution in Housing: Analysis of Responses to the Consultation on the Introduction of a New Housing Panel for Scotland
3. Option 1: Preventative Action

61 page PDF

754.9 kB

3. Option 1: Preventative Action

3.1 The first section of the consultation focused on the promotion of early preventative action and mediation in resolving housing disputes. As noted earlier, this approach is not seen as an alternative to the creation of a housing panel but as an approach that would bring benefits in its own right and form a key part of a whole-systems approach to resolving housing disputes more effectively.

Question 1: Do we need to consider legislative action to assist the early resolution of disputes, for example by imposing additional legal duties on landlords or other public bodies?

Q1a: If yes, in what areas should duties be imposed and for what purpose? E.g. should we impose wider pre-action requirements before landlords could raise eviction proceedings in any case?

3.2 Question 1 asked respondents to consider whether there is a case for introducing additional legal duties requiring landlords or other public bodies to undertake actions designed to prevent housing problems escalating and turning into serious housing disputes.

Table 2: Question 1 - Response by Respondent Type
Respondent Type Yes No Don't know/ mixed N/A Total
Registered Social Landlords 4 15 2 1 22
Local Authorities 6 15 2 - 23
Tenant and resident groups 8 10 - - 18
Campaign and third sector orgs 2 6 - 7 15
Legal firms or representative groups 1 5 - 1 7
Lettings agents, private landlords & groups - 5 - 2 7
Housing representative agencies and bodies - 4 - - 4
Other representative agencies and bodies 2 1 - 2 5
Individuals 4 6 1 4 15
TOTAL 27 67 5 17 116

3.3 A clear majority of respondents (67 out of the 99 that answered this question) felt that the Scottish Government should not consider legislative action to assist with the early resolution of disputes. There was only one respondent type (Other representative agencies and bodies) in which a majority of respondents favoured legislative action, although tenant and resident group and individual respondents were more evenly divided on the issue. None of the four housing representative agencies saw the need to consider legislative action in this area.

3.4 The analysis of further comments made both at Question 1 and Question 1a suggests that generally respondents fell into one of three broad groups:

  • Those that considered additional legal duties on landlords were not required and that the emphasis should be on ensuring effective implementation of the current regulations;
  • A small number that considered additional legal duties were not required for the social rented sector but that there was a case for considering additional duties for the private rented sector; and
  • Those that considered there to be a case for introducing additional duties for all landlords.

3.5 Many of those who did not see the need for further legislative action focused on the social rented sector in their further comments. The following points were made:

  • There are already a number of measures in place which require landlords to take a pro-active approach to dealing with disputes. Pre-action requirements and the requirement to provide information via Section 11 notices were frequently cited as examples. The potential inclusion of additional measures relating to tenancies and allocations in the forthcoming Housing Bill was also raised;
  • In any case, responsible landlords will already be doing all they can to prevent a case reaching court, with legal action seen as a last resort for only the most serious cases;
  • Landlords will also be aware of the very significant costs that can be incurred by both landlord and tenant if legal proceedings are instigated. In essence, high quality tenancy sustainment practices are not only in the best interest of tenants but also equate to good business practice for landlords;
  • On a connected theme, from the landlord's perspective the length of time a court case is likely to take is also a considerable incentive to achieve resolution through other means. If anti-social behaviour is involved, landlords will also be aware of the considerable impact that lengthy court-related delays may have on the wider community; and
  • Social landlords are already subject to scrutiny, most obviously from the Scottish Social Housing Regulator (SSHR) and the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO). The Scottish Social Housing Charter also already establishes a clear framework within which they should be operating.

3.6 In summary, a number of these respondents suggested that additional legislation simply would not assist in early resolution of housing disputes. However, as noted above, a small number of respondents made the case for a tenure-specific approach, with further legislation considered but only for the private rented sector. The different legislative and regulatory context in which the two rented tenures operate was seen as the issue, and specifically the potential for private landlords to serve a Notice to Quit rather than seek the resolution to any problems associated with a tenancy. However, other respondents took a very different position and suggested that the private rented sector is already highly regulated and further regulation could threaten its long term viability and potentially drive 'good' private landlords out of the sector.

3.7 The 27 respondents who did believe the Scottish Government should consider legislative action to assist the early resolution of disputes included tenant and resident groups, individuals and a small number of RSLs and local authorities. Reasons given included the need to create greater consistency in practice between landlords, the potential for further duties to result in easier and swifter resolution of some disputes and specifically the possible benefits of extending a pre-action requirement type system to include wider dispute cases and other tenures. Two RSL respondents noted that their attempts to seek early resolution can sometimes conflict with the objectives of other public bodies. These respondents suggested that a change to statutory grounds for repossession to include anti-social behaviour would strengthen their position. They would also welcome legal duties being applied to other public bodies.

3.8 Finally under Question 1, some specific concerns about how anti-social behaviour is dealt with were raised by tenant and resident group respondents in particular. Again, lack of consistency in practice between different landlords, in different areas of the country and between different tenures was seen as a problem that needs to be addressed.

3.9 In their further comments about areas in which should duties be imposed, many respondents raised similar points to those already set out above. Suggestions as to specific duties that could be considered included:

  • Existing pre-action requirements that apply to rent arrears cases in the social rented sector could be extended to the private rented sector;
  • There should be specified pre-action requirements before a social and/or private landlord can seek repossession on the grounds of anti-social behaviour or for other breaches of tenancy conditions. However, some respondents disagreed and suggested such a move would translate into little more than a formalisation of existing practice and would potentially create delays to achieving a resolution. The development of a best practice guide was seen as a preferred route to improved and consistent practice;
  • Parties could be required to have considered mediation as a pre-action requirement. However, it would be important to ensure that if only one of the parties is willing to try mediation, the other party is not prevented from accessing the court system;
  • The inclusion of mediation clauses in lease agreements could be made a statutory requirement;
  • Landlords and/or local authorities should be required to make mediation services available - either through direct provision or through funding these services;
  • Where appropriate, there should a duty for relevant partner agencies - such as the Police, NHS and Social Services - to work with the landlord in seeking a resolution to housing disputes;
  • There should be a legal requirement for landlords to be explicit about the reasons why they are asking a tenant to leave their property - good reasons could include sale of the property, bankruptcy or death of the landlord, the landlord requiring the housing for their own permanent home or failure to pay rent; and
  • Private landlords should be required to 'signpost' tenants to sources of housing and debt-related information and advice. This information could be included within Tenant Information Packs.

Question 2: Would this sort of upstream action be preferable and achieve better outcomes than a new Housing Panel or reformed courts?

3.10 Respondents' views on whether the type of upstream actions discussed above would achieve better outcomes than a new housing panel or reformed courts are set out in the table below.

Table 3: Question 2 - Response by Respondent Type
Respondent Type Yes No Don't know N/A Total
Registered Social Landlords - 16 4 2 22
Local Authorities 5 16 2 - 23
Tenant and resident groups 8 6 2 2 18
Campaign and third sector orgs 5 1 - 9 15
Legal firms or representative groups - 4 - 3 7
Lettings agents, private landlords & groups 1 1 1 4 7
Housing representative agencies and bodies - 3 - 1 4
Other representative agencies and bodies - 1 2 2 5
Individuals 5 3 1 6 15
TOTAL 24 51 12 29 116

3.11 A clear majority of those that answered this question (51 out of 87 respondents) did not expect upstream action to be preferable or likely to achieve better outcomes than a new housing panel or reformed courts. However, the balance of opinion did vary according to respondent type and a majority of tenant and resident group, campaign and third sector and individual respondents did believe upstream action would be more effective.

3.12 Although the standard response form did not invite further comment at this question, a number of respondents explained their position either within the form or through further comments submitted along with their response. Many of these respondents took the opportunity to clarify that they did not see this as an 'either/or' scenario, but rather that early preventative action had a vital role to play within a system that could and should still include a new housing panel or reformed courts.

"Access to justice is about the ability to access appropriate and proportionate justice from the whole spectrum of resolution. Advice, early dialogue, ADR and judicial means should all be available and accessible…" Citizens Advice Scotland

Question 3: Are there non-legislative measures we could take to encourage the prevention and early resolution of housing disputes between parties?

Q3a: If yes, what measures would these be?

3.13 The final questions on preventative action asked respondents whether there are non-legislative measures that the Scottish Government could take, and if so what these might be. The balance of opinion at Question 3 is set out in the table below.

Table 4: Question 3 - Response by Respondent Type
Respondent Type Yes No Don't know N/A Total
Registered Social Landlords 11 6 2 3 22
Local Authorities 21 2 - - 23
Tenant and resident groups 16 1 1 - 18
Campaign and third sector orgs 10 - - 5 15
Legal firms or representative groups 2 4 - 1 7
Lettings agents, private landlords & groups 3 1 - 3 7
Housing representative agencies and bodies 3 - - 1 4
Other representative agencies and bodies 2 1 - 2 5
Individuals 8 1 2 4 15
TOTAL 76 16 5 19 116

3.14 A clear majority of respondents that answered this question (76 out of 97) considered there are non-legislative measures that could be taken to encourage the prevention and early resolution of housing disputes. Some respondents went on to note that most social landlords already place a considerable emphasis on prevention and early intervention work. Nevertheless, suggestions for other measures that could be considered included:

  • The introduction of the measures currently being considered to give social landlords greater flexibility when allocating properties and consider allowing the use of introductory/probationary tenancies;
  • Development of national standards and further good practice on early stage intervention and resolution techniques, including mediation techniques. Good practice materials to include innovative approaches, best practice examples and a good practice checklist along the lines of the pre-action requirements for rent arrears cases;
  • Requiring landlords to develop policies and procedures for dealing with housing disputes. Tenants and residents groups and other service users should be involved in both the development and the review of these policies and procedures;
  • Funding (including continuing funding) of support organisations which contribute to tenancy sustainment, particularly offering support where mental health issues are preventing people from engaging with a problem;
  • Making independent advocacy available, particularly for vulnerable tenants;
  • Development of specialist advice and support services that cover the private rented sector;
  • Encouraging initiatives that promote good practice in the private rented sector. For example, local authorities should be strongly encouraged to promote and support good practice among private landlords. In addition, they could offer a dedicated helpline which advised tenants about how to deal with disputes and also allowed tenants to report poor practice and problems with landlords or agents.
  • Introducing a Landlord Registry, to include credit and reference checks on Landlords and Agents. This should be made available to tenants;
  • Developing publicity materials and assisted marketing of accredited private landlords. Recognition of good practice around dispute prevention and resolution could form part of accreditation schemes;
  • Making accessible, properly funded, cross-tenure, independent mediation services available to landlords, tenants and their families;
  • Development of national standards for mediation and support for training staff of landlords to become high quality mediators;
  • Introduction of initiatives to engage tenants (of both local authorities and RSLs) as members of their community, possibly linking into existing community planning or safety groups;
  • Placing requirements on landlords to proactively "introduce" new tenants to their neighbours using an approach appropriate to the local context;
  • Developing awareness raising initiatives which focus on tenants' (as well as landlords') rights and responsibilities and promote the concept and use of mediation services; and
  • Including housing education and financial management within the school curriculum.

Question 4: Do you think mediation should be made more widely available for housing disputes?

Q4a: If no, please explain your views

3.15 A number of respondents commented on the potential for greater use of mediation in resolving housing disputes in their comments on early intervention. The consultation document also asked a number of specific questions about the use of mediation, starting by asking whether it should be made more widely available, with the balance of opinion amongst respondents set out in the table below.

Table 5: Question 4 - Response by Respondent Type
Respondent Type Yes No Don't know N/A Total
Registered Social Landlords 13 6 2 1 22
Local Authorities 21 1 - 1 23
Tenant and resident groups 18 - - - 18
Campaign and third sector orgs 8 1 - 6 15
Legal firms or representative groups 1 3 1 2 7
Lettings agents, private landlords & groups 5 1 - 1 7
Housing representative agencies and bodies 3 1 - - 4
Other representative agencies and bodies 3 - - 2 5
Individuals 10 - 1 4 15
TOTAL 82 13 4 17 116

3.16 There was a considerable level of support for making mediation more widely available with 82 out of the 99 respondents that answered this question in agreement. However, a small number of respondents also noted that mediation is a potentially broad concept.

3.17 Those that did not see a greater role for mediation (as well as a small number of respondents who did not give an answer at Question 4) gave the following reasons for disagreeing:

  • Adequate mediation services and resources are already available. These include appropriately trained and resourced housing advisors, such as solicitors, who provide informal mediation. It is not clear what additional resources would add;
  • Staff of social landlords already undertake informal mediation on a day-to-day basis and it is only on rare occasions that formal mediation with the assistance of external mediators is required;
  • Providing more services would come at a cost and if the landlord and/or tenant has to pay for the mediation then this could be prejudicial;
  • Mediation is not a solution that will suit in all cases - for example, the vast majority of breaches of tenancy relate to non-payment of rent lawfully due and in these circumstances mediation is not appropriate as the facts of the case are self-evident; and
  • Not all parties may wish to use mediation services and it could not be made compulsory. It can be difficult to get tenants to engage with mediation, even if they have initially agreed to take part in the process.

Q4b: If yes, what sort of housing issues would mediation be most effective at resolving?

3.18 Respondents suggested a range of areas of dispute for which mediation might prove helpful, with one respondent noting that:

"Housing disputes are particularly well suited to mediation as there is usually a continuing relationship between the landlord and the tenant……mediation would be most effective at resolving cases where communication breakdown is a contributory factor in the dispute." Scottish Mediation Network

3.19 Similarly, a small number of respondents suggested that it is the attitude of the parties concerned and their willingness to take part in a mediation that is the critical factor, rather than the nature of the issue being disputed.

3.20 The range of problems identified as being appropriate for mediation included those that fell exclusively within either the social rented or private sector, as well as a number of problems that could be cross-tenure. The importance of a 'tenure-neutral' approach was also raised explicitly by a small number of respondents.

3.21 The following specific areas of dispute were put forward for consideration:

  • Rent arrears, although a number of other respondents felt this was not an issue for which mediation would be appropriate;
  • Between landlords and tenants over standards of service, including quality of or requirement for repairs to the property;
  • Over a tenant's failure to meet obligations, such as cleaning of communal areas, keeping pets under control or the behaviour of children;
  • Over the use of common areas, access issues or parking;
  • Low level neighbour disputes, including lifestyle clashes, noise-related complaints, and outside maintenance issues (e.g. hedge or grass cutting);
  • Boundary and water and drainage disputes, either between owners and owners or owners and tenants;
  • Mutual maintenance agreements - it is important that assistance is given at an early stage to ensure owners and landlords set up proper arrangements for dealing with shared maintenance obligations;
  • Around the imposition of non-rent charges such as a service charge or repair recharge;
  • Between a social landlord and housing applicant over the assessment of their housing need or the need for an adaptation;
  • Between a private landlord and tenant over the return of a deposit, including any dilapidations charges; and
  • Family mediation could be employed before a young person is considered for social housing/their first tenancy.

3.22 Finally, although generally supportive of the greater use of mediation, some respondents raised notes of caution including that:

  • A level of housing expertise will be required;
  • There would need to be a comprehensive set of referral criteria to ensure referrals to mediation were appropriate. Appropriateness for mediation is complex and depends on a variety of factors;
  • There will always be a range of cases for which mediation would not be suitable and, given this, the use of mediation might not significantly reduce the number of cases that reach the formal dispute stage;
  • In particular, mediation would not be appropriate where any criminal activities may be involved or where the case has reached formal pre-court or court stages;
  • The 'power imbalance' between landlord and tenant in the social rented sector needs to be considered and may make mediation less feasible;
  • Other methods of alternative dispute resolution - such as arbitration - may be more appropriate or desirable to parties in some cases, particularly if a binding solution is required;
  • Often the real issue is that the tenant is not engaging, either because they are unable to pay in rent cases, or they have an addiction or mental health issue which is making it difficult for them to engage; and
  • Rather than simply increasing mediation services, greater benefit could be derived from taking a strategic overview, mapping of existing services and identifying gaps in provision. This exercise would also need to evaluate the quality of existing outcomes, accessibility of services and cost and charging issues.

Q4c: If yes, would it be better to do this by expanding existing provision or by creating a new housing mediation service?

3.23 Respondents' views on the most effective mechanism for making mediation more widely available are set out in the table below.

Table 6: Question 4c - Response by Respondent Type
Respondent Type Expanding Existing New Service Mixed N/A Total
Registered Social Landlords 4 9 1 8 22
Local Authorities 21 2 - - 23
Tenant and resident groups 5 12 - 1 18
Campaign and third sector orgs 6 1 - 8 15
Legal firms or representative groups 1 1 - 5 7
Lettings agents, private landlords & groups 3 1 - 3 7
Housing representative agencies and bodies 2 1 - 1 4
Other representative agencies and bodies - 1 - 4 5
Individuals 4 6 - 5 15
TOTAL 46 34 1 35 116

3.24 Views were mixed as to whether it would be better to expand existing provision or create a new housing mediation service. More respondents favoured expanding existing provision, although the balance of opinion did vary significantly depending on the respondent type. In particular, while a clear majority of local authority respondents favoured the expansion of existing services, a majority of RSL, tenant and resident group and individual respondents supported the development of a new service.

3.25 Although further comments were not invited at Question 4c, a small number of respondents did explain their position. Points raised included that the two proposed options are not mutually exclusive and that any decision taken must be informed by an exercise which maps existing services and identifies gaps (as proposed by some respondents at Question 4b). There were also concerns that a new national housing mediation service could: be cumbersome; not be responsive to local priorities; not have the area-specific knowledge that will be found within existing local services; and not be supported by the close partnership working that goes on in some areas.

Q4d: If yes, how can parties be encouraged to use mediation to resolve housing problems?

3.26 When considering how parties could be encouraged to use mediation to resolve housing problems, respondents' comments tended to focus either on the key characteristics that any services should have or on how to spread the message about mediation. In terms of the system itself, suggestions included that it should:

  • Be impartial and confidential;
  • Use experienced professionals, such as lawyers, housing professionals and experts in the area being disputed;
  • Be purely voluntary, with no compulsion on unwilling parties to participate;
  • Or, in contrast, work on similar principles to pre-action requirements with parties required to demonstrate they have attempted mediation before taking court action; and
  • Be widely available across the country, free, easy to access and allow people to self-refer.

3.27 The other common theme was the need to raise awareness about mediation more generally, as well as the specific services available. This would apply not only to the general public but also to those working in housing, with further suggestions including that:

  • The 'mediation option' should be imbedded in the relevant policies, procedures and practices of social landlords;
  • Housing staff should be trained on the application and benefits of mediation; and
  • Landlords should be encouraged to actively promote mediation services, by including information in Tenancy Handbooks or Tenant Information Packs, for example.

3.28 In addition, a number of respondents suggested a national awareness-raising publicity campaign would be required and could:

  • Be targeted at the different groups that might consider using a housing focused mediation service - such as private and social landlords and critically tenants - and not assume a 'one size fits all' approach to publicity will be effective;
  • Use real examples that highlight the potential benefits of using mediation. Examples could be housing-specific or could draw on the successful use of mediation within other sectors, such as Education;
  • Create reasonable expectations of the mediation process and its potential outcomes; and
  • Highlight the cost-effectiveness of mediation relative to other possible routes, such as courts with the need to engage legal representation.

Q4e: If yes, how might mediation be funded?

3.29 Moving on to look at how mediation might be funded, a small number of respondents noted that it was important to set up funding structures which allowed any service to be free at the point of use. It was also suggested that:

"An effective charging policy may help to share costs but this would have to be balanced against creating a barrier to the service for people on a low income." Glasgow Housing Association

3.30 Respondents tended to take one of two broad positions on funding. Most respondents took the view that any service or services should be wholly or partially funded by the Scottish Government. The reasons respondents gave included that:

  • The current Private Rented Housing Panel (prhp) mediation service receives funding from the Scottish Government;
  • Services must be seen as 'unbiased', which might not be the case if landlords were contributing to costs;
  • Work could be undertaken to look at the cost to the tax payer of disputes being handled by the court system and equivalent funding could be diverted to fund mediation services; and
  • It would not be reasonable to fund such a service from tenants' rents.

3.31 Other respondents felt that funding should come from a broader range of organisations, most obviously those that could make savings if more effective dispute resolution was available. Organisations would be likely to include the court service, local authorities, RSLs and private landlords. From the landlord's perspective, it was noted that clear evidence would be needed to demonstrate the benefits of mediation as a "spend to save initiative".

3.32 Further suggestions included:

  • There could be costs for the parties involved which varied according to who brought the case to mediation and the outcome of the process;
  • Agencies should be encouraged to joint-fund services at a local level;
  • There could be an annual levy on social and private landlords based on stock holding, with match funding provided by the Scottish Government;
  • Contributions from private landlords could be gathered through the Landlord Registration system or through tenancy deposit schemes;
  • National lottery funding could be sought; and
  • If any local authority funding was required it should come from the General Fund not the Housing Revenue Fund.

3.33 Finally, there were again calls for an evaluation and cost-benefit analysis of existing services to ensure that funding is being targeted effectively. It was also pointed out that initial costs need not be prohibitive, as there would not be a need for vast numbers of mediators and in the short-term existing private mediators could be used.

Q4f: If yes, do you feel there are enough mediators across Scotland to deal with housing cases?

3.34 A number of respondents felt unable to comment about whether there are enough mediators and it was suggested that organisations and groups that specialise in mediation - such as SACRO and the Scottish Mediation Network (SMN) - are best placed to comment on capacity within the existing pool of trained mediators. In their responses, both of these organisations suggested that there are a sufficient number of mediators to deal with housing cases, although SMN noted that the number of housing-related cases seeking mediation will, of course, be a factor that will need to be taken into consideration. The Scottish Community Mediation Centre cited the lack of services in a number of local authorities as evidence of a lack of supply.

3.35 A number of other respondents noted that their comments were essentially based on anecdotal evidence or that they could only comment on levels of provision in their local area. The group of respondents that commented on local supply included those that found it to be sufficient. However, some respondents did consider that there are not, or are unlikely to be, sufficiently trained and experienced mediators, particularly to resource a national service. There were connected concerns that:

"Increasing pressure on mediation services which are not capable of dealing with increased demand will have a detrimental effect on mediation as a solution to housing disputes. The introduction of waiting lists for example, is likely to turn people off from considering mediation." East Lothian Council

3.36 A suggested solution was for any new mediation service to provide accredited training to housing professionals as part of its role. However, there were also concerns that any such 'up-scaling' would take time and that the lead-in time for any legislative changes would need to take this into account. The extent to which many existing services rely heavily on the use of volunteers was also raised and there was a suggestion that more salaried posts would be required.

3.37 There were also concerns that, whilst the number of trained mediators has increased over recent years, it is not always clear that these mediators have sufficient knowledge or understanding of the technical issues and laws associated with housing cases to be confident in taking on cases in this area.

Question 5: What can we do to improve public awareness of mediation as a way of solving housing disputes?

3.38 The final question within this section asked respondents for suggestions around improving public awareness of mediation as a way of solving housing disputes.

3.39 Many of the suggestions echoed those already given at Question 4d, with respondents tending to focus on the need for a national and/or local publicity campaigns. Specific suggestions about any campaign were that it should:

  • Use a range of traditional media, such as TV, radio, and the press, but also make use of digital and social media. Include information on relevant national websites, such as Gov.uk and local websites, such as those of the local authority;
  • Highlight how mediation has worked in other sectors. A specific example given was of The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 which places a duty on local authorities to have access to a mediation service and which aims to encourage these authorities to mediate disputes with the families of children with additional support needs before using more formal approaches like the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland;
  • Include real case examples of how mediation has helped in resolving housing disputes; and
  • Focus on the potential cost savings associated with avoiding court action.

3.40It was also suggested that mediation should be promoted not only to the public but also to relevant public agencies across Scotland and that appropriate guidance should be issued to encourage consistency in practice across all local authority areas.

3.41Very much in line with the comment that it will be important for information to be available to people at the point they need it, many other suggestions focused on how local areas and services themselves could make a contribution, with examples including:

  • Carrying out local mapping exercises to establish which services offer mediation and which services could distribute information about and refer clients to mediation. This could include not only public and third sector organisations but also local legal firms;
  • Establishing clear referral frameworks for each local authority which ensure that people who could benefit from mediation are referred on or signposted to appropriate services;
  • Undertaking awareness raising training about mediation for agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux and welfare rights agencies;
  • Introducing a Tenancy Retention Officer for the Private Rented Sector (funding permitting);
  • Social and private landlords actively promoting mediation services to tenants, including within their Tenants Handbooks and Tenant Information Packs, on their websites and through tenant newsletters; and
  • If data protection compliant; allowing mediation services to pro-actively contact tenants to explain the benefits of mediation and invite them to use the service.

3.42 Finally, it was suggested that in time more services will translate into greater public awareness and that the most powerful promotional tool of all would be word of mouth.

Summary of Key Issues on Preventative Action

A clear majority of respondents did not want the Scottish Government to consider legislative action to assist with the early resolution of disputes, with many suggesting the emphasis should be on ensuring effective implementation of the current regulations and that there are already a number of measures in place - such as pre-action requirements - which require landlords to take a pro-active approach to dealing with disputes.

Those that did believe the Scottish Government should consider legislative action were often looking to create greater consistency in practice between landlords, along with easier and swifter resolution of some disputes.

Most respondents did not expect upstream action to achieve better outcomes than a new housing panel or reformed courts. However, a clear majority also considered there to be further non-legislative measures that could be taken to encourage the prevention and early resolution of housing disputes. A popular suggestion was the development of national standards and further good practice on early stage intervention and resolution techniques.

There was a considerable level of support for making mediation more widely available. The areas of dispute in which respondents thought mediation might have a role to play included: standards of service; a tenant's failure to meet their obligations; and low level neighbour disputes. Some respondents thought rent arrears cases could be mediated, although others felt this was not an issue for which mediation would be appropriate.

Views were mixed as to whether it would be better to expand existing provision or create a new housing mediation service. More respondents favoured expanding existing provision, although the balance of opinion did vary significantly depending on the respondent type. In particular, while a clear majority of local authority respondents favoured the expansion of existing services, a majority of RSL, tenant and resident group and individual respondents supported the development of a new service.

Respondents tended to take one of two broad positions on funding. Most respondents took the view that any service or services should be wholly or partially funded by the Scottish Government. Others suggested that funding should come from a broader range of organisations, most obviously those that could make savings if more effective dispute resolution was available.

Suggestions around improving public awareness of mediation as a way of solving housing disputes tended to focus on the need for a national and/or local publicity campaign. It was also suggested that mediation should be promoted not only to the public but also to relevant public agencies across Scotland and that appropriate guidance should be issued to encourage consistency in practice across all local authority areas.


Contact

Email: Paul Sloan