Common Housing Register (CHR) - building a register: a practitioner's guide

A practical guide to the development of common housing registers between local authorities and registered social landlords in Scotland. The guide draws on the experience of those areas in Scotland who have successfully implemented a CHR.


Equality and the law

There are different approaches to equality and diversity. The terms used can vary depending on whether referring to service provision, or workforce management. The Scottish Government highlights that there are three different approaches to ensuring equality for service users. 19 These are:

  • Equal treatment - everyone is treated in exactly the same way.
  • Equal opportunities - measures are in place to make sure that certain communities or individuals don't experience barriers or discrimination. For example, you might make sure that you advertise services in lots of different places, or provide childcare or interpretation to make sure people can access services.

Equal opportunities is defined within the Scotland Act 1998 as:

"the prevention, elimination or regulation of discrimination between persons on grounds of sex or marital status, on racial grounds, or on grounds of disability, age, sexual orientation, language or social origin, or of other personal attributes including beliefs or opinions, such as religious beliefs or political opinions".

  • Equality of outcome - particular services or support are available for people who experience disadvantage or inequality. For example, if you found that people from minority ethnic communities were not getting equal access to your houses, you might involve people in the design of new homes to make sure that they are suitable. This type of approach can be known as positive action.

The Scottish Government is very clear that equal treatment does not achieve equality, and can actually result in indirect discrimination. People may be disadvantaged by a situation which appears neutral, but is in fact catering for the majority. Organisations should be considering how they can create equal opportunities, and equality of outcome.

In Scotland, the approach to promoting equality has focused on protecting and raising awareness of the rights of people who may be disadvantaged because of their:

  • age;
  • gender or gender identity;
  • disability;
  • ethnic origin;
  • religion and belief; and
  • sexual orientation.

The laws on equality in relation to ethnic origin, disability and gender are most advanced. It is unlawful for any service provider to discriminate for any reason relating to race, disability or gender. In employment and training, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, gender identity, disability, ethnic origin, religion, belief or sexual orientation.

This covers both direct and indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination can occur if a situation results in a certain group of people being disadvantaged, even if this is an unintended consequence. This means that housing providers must always ensure that they comply with the law through considering the impact of policies and activities on people from different equalities groups. When doing this, it is also vital to remember that people can all fall into multiple equalities groups. And it is important to understand that people are all individuals, and people in the same equalities groups can have very different needs and experiences.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 introduced further statutory duties for registered social landlords. RSLs now have a duty to encourage equal opportunities and provide all services in a way which promotes equality. Essentially, this means that equality must be a central consideration for all housing providers, and must be built into the process of policy development and review.

Best practice in relation to equalities

The Scottish Housing Regulator has very clear expectations of social housing providers in terms of equality and diversity.

"We expect all social landlords to embrace diversity, promote equal opportunities for all and eliminate unlawful discrimination in all areas of their work." (The Scottish Housing Regulator, Online Guidance, 2008)

The Regulator has a series of Performance Standards which housing providers should meet. A central aim of these Standards is to make sure that housing providers contribute to social inclusion and equality. One of these standards relates specifically to equal opportunities:

"We embrace diversity, promote equal opportunities for all and eliminate unlawful discrimination in all areas of our work." (Performance Standards, Guiding Standard 2.1)

This is a Guiding Standard, meaning that it should underpin everything that landlords do. The Scottish Housing Regulator sets out a series of self assessment questions, which allow housing providers to check that they are meeting this standard. There are 56 self-assessment questions which apply to housing associations and outline best practice. Some of the key areas included are:

Action Planning

Clear, published commitment to equality

Realistic targets with clear responsibilities

Resources, training and support

Understand profile and needs of communities

Support and link to local equality networks

Staff and board members aware of approach

Consultation and Participation

Individuals and representative groups involved in policy development

Analyse and report on responses from different individuals and groups

Monitoring Equality Issues

Monitor equalities issues through both qualitative and quantitative approaches

Analyse, report, feedback and act on monitoring information

Consult with people about how monitoring information is gathered and used

Link information to targets and objectives

Delivering Services

Ensure comply with the law and guidance

Benchmark and share good practice

Provide accessible information

Respond to harassment/ discrimination

Identify and tackle gaps/barriers or disparities

Mainstream equalities in service planning and delivery

Staffing, Governance and Membership

Published commitment to equal recruitment and employment practices

Comply with law and statutory guidance

Train recruitment and HR staff on equality issues

Advertise widely without unfairly restricting range of applicants

Gather information about staff, Board and membership profile

Compare profile with wider community composition

Set targets to address any disparities

Regularly monitor and report on performance, and take action

Find out more...

You can learn more about best practice in relation to equalities - and the Performance Standards - from the Scottish Housing Regulators website here . (

How to do an Equalities Impact Assessment

In order to ensure equal opportunity and equality of outcome CHR partnerships should consider what effect a new system of allocations will have on all communities living in the CHR area. This means conducting an equalities impact assessment for your CHR. An impact assessment will help ensure that the policies and processes adopted will reflect the needs of residents. Equalities impact assessments can take place during CHR development or after implementation to review the service being delivered.

I&DeA - the Improvement and Development Agency for local government - have published a practical learning resource which gives clear guidance on conducting equality impact assessments. The resource includes a six-step guide to conducting an equalities impact assessment, which involves:

  • Initial screening - of new and revised policies and procedures. If it is felt that there is the potential to cause adverse effects or discriminate against different groups in the community then it will be necessary to continue with the impact assessment;
  • Scoping and defining - determining who should undertake the assessment and the best time for it to take place;
  • Information gathering - using existing monitoring, new research and consultation with appropriate stakeholders;
  • Making a judgement - deciding whether or not there is potential for the service to result in a less favourable outcome on any group within the community, or unlawful discrimination of any kind - and whether particular issues need to be addressed;
  • Action planning - determining the necessary actions and positive changes as a result of the assessment; and
  • Publication and review - effectively communicating the outcomes within your organisation, with partners and with the wider community - and establish how progress will be reviewed.

Find out more...

You can find out more on the general approach to conducting an equalities impact assessment from the I&DeA website here . (

Example: Carrying out an Equalities Impact Assessment before launching the CHR

HOME Argyll commissioned an equalities impact assessment to be conducted by an independent consultant prior to the launch of their CHR. The equalities impact assessment asked the partners to consider which groups of people would be affected by the introduction of the CHR and what the positive and negative impacts might be. The equalities impact assessment summarised the key issues to take forward, such as promoting HOME Argyll to equalities groups, progress joint working on welfare rights and on interpretation and translation services, and recommended a fuller equalities impact assessment take place.

The partners will consider conducting a fuller assessment once they have completed their policy review, which is planned for 2009.

Currently, equalities questions are included on the application form, but these questions are not mandatory and so applicants can choose not to give HOME Argyll the information. The questions relate to disability and ethnic origin as well as age and gender.

Through HOME Argyll the partners have developed a shared policy on translation and interpretation and recently the partners have received some applications in Polish which they pay to have translated. There is currently discussion about working towards an accreditation such as "Happy to Translate".

How to engage with people from equalities groups

There is a wide range of techniques that partners can use to effectively engage with residents from equalities groups. The Community Engagement How To Guide produced by the Scottish Centre for Regeneration provides a comprehensive guide to community engagement techniques . ( It also includes a dedicated section on Engagement and Equalities ( which outlines best approaches to making contact with equalities groups and working with groups in a collaborative and meaningful way.

The 2008 CHR Position Study 20 showed that tenant/applicant consultation often occurred at the same time as methods to engage specifically with people from equalities groups. The timing of engagement is important and engagement with equalities groups should happen from the outset and should be revisited throughout the life of the CHR.

Some key issues to consider when engaging with equalities groups are:

  • The people you are wanting to work with will know the best methods of engagement - find out from them how they would like to be consulted. Be accommodating to their needs and flexible about how you bring them into the process.
  • Diversity between and within equalities groups is substantial and needs to be reflected in approaches to engagement.
  • Making the initial contact can be challenging - work with trusted organisations, group/community leaders and take time to building relationships.
  • All community groups expect engagement to be meaningful - involve groups as early as possible and at key stages in the decision-making process and feedback the outcomes of consultation.
  • Good planning is essential to effective engagement - be clear about the purpose and what will be involved. For particular groups (minority communities, people with disabilities, younger people etc.) you will need to think carefully about the most appropriate way to facilitate discussions. Things you might have to consider include:
    - what support you should offer - childcare, incentives etc;
    - the location and timing of the event - what makes it easiest and most familiar for participants;
    - whether you need translation and interpretation services;
    - the gender of the facilitator(s) - in male or female only events; and
    - the clothing that the facilitator will wear - particularly when meeting community members in places of worship.

Find out more...

The Scottish Centre for Regeneration has produced a Community Engagement How To Guide 21 which incorporates the National Standards for Community Engagement 22 and provides a range of techniques (and case study examples) to help you engage effectively with local people. There is a dedicated section of the How To Guide looking at issues around Engagement and Equalities . 23 Information on engaging with equalities groups can also be found in the Scottish Government's Guide to Successful Tenant Participation . 24

Example: Addressing equalities issues

Partners have taken account of the needs of equalities groups in the development of EdIndex in a number of ways:

  • The application form was developed with equalities in mind and Equality Officers within the Council reviewed the draft form.
  • Participation of equalities groups is monitored within the CHR. Regular monitoring reports are provided to landlords allowing them to raise and address areas of concern.
  • The move of most of the EdIndex landlords to Choice Based Lettings ( CBL) means there is a greater reliance on applicants making choices for themselves - partners felt it was important to monitor the impact of the new system on particular groups and ensure that adequate support was given to those that would need it.
  • There is a Choice Outreach worker based within the Council, who supports people in applying for housing. The work includes a special service for visually impaired people. People are identified who have difficulty completing the application form or search for properties through Choice Based Lettings. The outreach worker can help them complete the form, and then arranges to contact them on a weekly basis to discuss the properties advertised each week. This service works alongside other support that may be provided either through Council services or other agencies.
  • Partners discussed how best to ensure people who do not speak English as their first language could complete the form. They considered translating the form into certain common languages in Edinburgh - like Polish - but the challenge then is that it needs to be translated back. Instead, the outreach worker would arrange a translator to help complete the form and explain how Choice Based Lettings operates.
  • The Edinburgh Housing Advice Network has been engaged at various stages in the development of EdIndex. This has allowed partners to disseminate information about EdIndex to a range of agencies delivering information and advice in the City.

The partners are looking to improve their equalities monitoring in the future. The new business plan outlines plans to improve the application process, including a more proactive approach to encouraging applications. This might involve identifying people with more significant support needs (which is possible using the systems reports) and supporting them further.

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