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
6. Equality Issues & Business And Regulatory Impact Assessment

61 page PDF

754.9 kB

6. Equality Issues & Business And Regulatory Impact Assessment

6.1 The final section of the consultation asked a series of questions about equality issues and the possible business and regulatory impact of the possible changes. As is often the case with consultations, the proportion of respondents that answered these questions was generally lower than for earlier sections. Respondents also tended to cross-reference between comments made under each of the two topics or to refer back to answers given at the first question covering either equalities or the Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA). The analysis below reflects this pattern of responding.

Question 8: Which equality groups, if any, do you think will be differently affected by each of the options in this consultation paper?

Question 9: How do you think they will be affected by each option (positively or negatively)?

Question 10: What changes could we make to each of the options to mitigate or remove any adverse effect on the equalities groups you have identified?

Question 11: What opportunities do the changes/options present for equality of opportunity advances, and/or fostering of good relations between and among different people?

6.2 In commenting on the possible impact of any changes, some respondents simply took the opportunity to express their support for the principle of equality. In terms of how any changes would impact on different groups, some respondents stated that all groups would be affected, others that there would be no groups which were differently affected.

6.3 Most respondents identified groups or types of people that could be affected positively, although they tended not to link their suggestions to any of the three main options covered in the consultation paper. Amongst the types of people or groups that respondents suggested might be affected positively were the following:

  • Potentially vulnerable people - with specific suggestions including: children and young people; single parent households; older people; people with physical disabilities or mobility issues; people with learning disabilities; people with mental health problems; Transsexuals, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual people; Transgender people; people from ethnic minorities groups, including Gypsy/Travellers; former Service personnel; and tenants of unregistered private landlords;
  • Any groups who require support when presenting to a panel or court , including those who do not have legal representation in the event of a court case; and
  • All individuals and groups who are victims when others breach their tenancy conditions.

6.4 Some respondents also made comments which referred specifically to the three options set out within the consultation. Points raised about preventative services included the following:

  • Investing in services to support the prevention of disputes arising in the first place would mean that many more people, and particularly those who are vulnerable, would receive the support that they need at an earlier stage to deal with potentially wide-ranging health, social and financial issues;
  • Mediation is likely to be useful for all equality groups in terms of potentially reducing the trauma associated with a more formal procedure;
  • Mediation is not suitable for parties who have substance abuse problems such as alcohol or drug dependences and may not be suitable if one of the parties has mental health problem(s);
  • Facilitated mediation could result in vulnerable user groups feeling pressured into agreeing a settlement which may compromise on their rights. Landlords are likely to be more able and articulate to negotiate and they are better informed as to the likely outcomes if the case proceeds to court; and
  • If victims are expected to face perpetrators as part of the mediation process this could be very traumatic.

6.5 Comments made about either the pre-court Housing Panel or Housing Panel to replace the court as decision maker options included:

  • For the Housing Panel model, all groups will be adversely affected by lack of accessibility; the anticipated lack of legal representation; the transitional period disruption; time delay and the expense;
  • If a pre-court Housing Panel resulted in delay and additional bureaucracy, this would disadvantage equalities groups, as it would the wider population;
  • The pre-court Housing Panel option is likely to be more complex and may lead to confusion amongst those who are vulnerable;
  • The benefits of a pre-court Housing Panel could be short-lived if a case was still referred on to a Sheriff court;
  • A specialist Housing Panel could potentially lead to improved long-term outcomes for those involved in the system - it would offer a greater level of expertise and consequently more consistent decision making where disputes have arisen that could not be resolved through other means. Qualified practitioners taking a more interventionist problem solving approach may be of assistance to those who cannot participate in mediation or refuse to do so.

6.6 Some respondents identified groups or types of people that could be affected less positively, depending on how any new system is structured and resourced. Suggestions included:

  • Individuals who fall into socially excluded or 'hard to reach' groups could to be affected by lack of access or awareness or just not having the confidence to engage. Advocacy would be key in identifying and assisting people at an early stage and helping them through the process.
  • Those in need of translation and interpretation services, including people for whom English is not a first language, if insufficient interpreting and support services are provided;
  • Those living in rural areas or at some distance from the Central Belt. In response, consideration should be given to hearings based in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and possibly Inverness;
  • Lower income groups if any charges are made for using any services put in place; and
  • If a housing panel for the rented sector only were to be established, this could be unfair to those who have a dispute with a home owner.

6.7 A number of respondents commented on key characteristics any new system should have in order to avoid disadvantaging any particular groups or types of people. Issues raised about the decision-making process, type of system to be put in place, considerations that should be made and the specifics of how any system should be organised and resourced included the following:

  • A full equalities impact assessment should be carried out on each of the options;
  • Lessons from the Leicester Serious Case Reviews are not discussed as part of the Scottish Government's consultation paper and Equality Impact Assessment.
  • The proposals need to take account of the fact that victims can often be dealing with equality issues that make them more vulnerable to the negative impacts of antisocial behaviour;
  • It will be important for those involved in a housing dispute to have access to good quality legal advice and support, along with any interpreting services that they may require. Some vulnerable participants may also need access to advocacy services;
  • It will be important to ensure that any supporting information developed, including publicity materials and operational procedures, is accessible. It should be easy to understand and available in a range of different formats;
  • Consideration should be given to how new information technologies can be used to enable greater accessibility for disabled users;
  • The use of community halls and local government buildings for hearings in more remote communities could be considered;
  • Decisions/orders should be capable of being issued with prescribed qualifications and actions, including time lines for compliance. These time lines should be subject to guidance developed by the Scottish Government in conjunction with an implementation steering group consisting of regulator representatives; tenant representatives; legal advisors; housing/maintenance professionals; money advisors and mediation professionals;
  • With any option taken forward, it will be important that the relevant professional standards and codes of conduct to be adhered to; and
  • A panel system must operate without fees.

6.8 Finally under this theme, some respondents commented on how the various options might offer opportunities for equality of opportunity advances, and/or the fostering of good relations between and among different people. Many of the comments made about mediation are summed up by the following:

"One of the key tenets of mediation is that people are "equal" around the table and that regardless of the power dynamics that exist between tenants and landlords "outside the room", mediators do not recognise these differences and approach each issue with the understanding that there is no privileging of positions. Thus, encouraging parties to mediation is an excellent opportunity to advance good relations between and among different people." - Edinburgh Cyrenians

6.9 Other points raised included:

  • This could be seen as a positive opportunity to raise awareness and break the cycle of hostility and negativity towards Gypsy/Travellers and other groups;
  • Changes offer the opportunity to create a tenure-neutral framework for dispute resolution in which no-one is disadvantaged simply because of the housing sector they live in; and
  • They offer the opportunity to improve relationships between landlords and tenants.

Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA)

6.10 The BRIA focuses on how each of the policy options might impact on the public, private or third sectors - it is designed to help achieve the policy objectives while minimising costs and burdens, and avoiding unintended consequences.

Question 12: Are there businesses, public bodies or 3rd sector organisations not already listed in the BRIA that we should engage with in developing one or more of these policy options?

If yes, please provide details of these organisations

Table 13: Question 12 - Response by Respondent Type

Respondent Type

Yes

No

Don't know

N/A

Total

Registered Social Landlords

5 8 5 4 22

Local Authorities

4 9 8 2 23

Tenant and resident groups

4 4 4 6 18

Campaign and third sector orgs

1 2 3 9 15

Legal firms or representative groups

1 1 2 3 7

Lettings agents, private landlords & groups

2 2 1 2 7

Housing representative agencies and bodies

- 1 1 2 4

Other representative agencies and bodies

2 - - 3 5

Individuals

1 3 6 5 15

TOTAL

20 30 30 36 116

6.11 There were 20 respondents who thought there were additional organisations that the Scottish Government should consult with (over and above those already listed in the BRIA) in taking forward the proposals.

6.12 Some respondents suggested types of organisation or sectors that the Scottish Government should engage with, including:

  • Regional Tenant Networks;
  • Registered Tenant Organisations;
  • Private landlords and commercial organisations who routinely deal with both tenants and landlords in the private sector - for example, some of the larger letting agents and particularly those with a national coverage;
  • Rural landlords and land agents;
  • The Police Service;
  • The National Health Service; and
  • Social Work Departments.

6.13 A number of specific organisations were also put forward. Only those groups not already consulted (and as set out at 7.10-7.11 of the consultation document) are included in the list below. Note also that a number of these groups have responded to this consultation (a full list of all group respondents is included as Appendix A to this report). Suggestions made included:

  • Age Concern
  • Anti-Social Behaviour Lawyers Forum
  • Anti-Social Behaviour Officers Forum
  • Department of Work & Pensions
  • Homeless Action Scotland
  • Homes for Scotland
  • Positive Action in Housing
  • Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS)
  • Scottish Association for Mental Health
  • Scottish Community Mediation Centre
  • Scottish Housing Best Value Network (SHBVN)
  • Scottish Mediation Network
  • Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
  • Shelter Scotland
  • Sheriff Court Service
  • Tenant Information Service
  • The Scottish Property Federation
  • TPAS Scotland
  • Victim Support Scotland

Question 13: Which options will impact on these organisations and what would the impact be?

6.14 Respondents suggested a range of ways in which the proposals might impact on businesses, public bodies or third sector organisations, including:

  • For some organisations or businesses, such as private landlords and advice agencies, the number of housing dispute cases they deal with may be increased and the way they deal with them may be effected;
  • If the mediation option is taken forward, there will be potential opportunities for growth in that sector;
  • The Scottish Court Service and members of the legal profession who undertake housing-related court work, could see a decreasing number of cases to deal with;
  • Rural organisations in particular may find the provision of services to be costly;
  • If any changes resulted in greater delays in achieving resolution to disputes, landlords may be exposed to increased administrative overheads or direct costs; and
  • The Scottish Legal Aid Board may be stretched further financially.

6.15 A small number of respondents also noted that it is difficult to make an informed assessment of how any changes might impact on their own organisation until further detail is available.

Question 14: Could the enforcement, sanctions or monitoring of any of the options have a disproportionate impact on any organisation or group of organisations within the public, private or third sectors?

If yes, please explain what the impact will be

6.16 The final question of the consultation asked whether enforcement, sanctions or monitoring of any of the options could have a disproportionate impact on any organisations, with the balance of opinion set out in the table below.

Table 14: Question 14 - Response by Respondent Type

Respondent Type

Yes

No

Don't know

N/A

Total

Registered Social Landlords

5 2 7 8 22

Local Authorities

4 7 7 5 23

Tenant and resident groups

2 1 3 12 18

Campaign and third sector orgs

2 - 2 11 15

Legal firms or representative groups

- 1 2 4 7

Lettings agents, private landlords & groups

1 3 1 2 7

Housing representative agencies and bodies

- 1 1 2 4

Other representative agencies and bodies

- - 1 4 5

Individuals

1 2 4 8 15

TOTAL

15 17 28 56 116

6.17 Only a small proportion of respondents expressed a view at this question, with only 15 considering that there could be a disproportionate impact on certain types of organisation or sector. Organisations or types of organisation identified included:

  • Advocacy agencies - if a Housing Panel is the agreed way forward, it may not always be necessary to have a legal advisor. The majority of tenants will seek an advocate/similar. It is likely advocates will be in high demand;
  • Mediation Services - which again are also likely to see increased demand for their services;
  • Third sector advice agencies - such as Citizens Advice Bureau - are likely to see a surge in demand for their advice services;
  • However, third sector agencies that deliver legal services may experience a loss of demand and by extension experience a loss of income;
  • The prhp - which is likely to see its role changed in some way;
  • Private sector landlords and in particular individuals owning one or two properties and who may find any additional duties particularly difficult to comply with or burdensome; and
  • Local authorities, for which the impact is likely to be considerable but is difficult to assess at this stage of the proposals.

Contact

Email: Paul Sloan