15. Current Outcomes and Standards: Rents and Service Charges (Charter outcomes 14 and 15)
RENTS AND SERVICE CHARGES (Charter outcomes 14 and 15)
Social landlords set rents and service charges in consultation with their tenants and other customers so that a balance is struck between the level of services provided, the cost of the services, and how far current and prospective tenants and other customers can afford them.
These outcomes reflect a landlord's legal duty to consult tenants about rent setting; the importance of taking account of what current and prospective tenants and other customers are likely to be able to afford; and the importance that many tenants place on being able to find out how their money is spent. Each landlord must decide, in discussion with tenants and other customers, whether to publish information about expenditure above a particular level, and in what form and detail. What matters is that discussions take place and the decisions made reflect the views of tenants and other customers.
Question 14a): Would you keep these outcomes exactly as they are or change them? Please explain your answer.
15.1 Of the 91 respondents who answered this question 59% considered that the outcomes should remain exactly as they are; 36% thought they should change; and 4% did not know.
15.2 Amongst the larger categories of respondent, a majority of TRGs (62%) and local authorities (62%) favoured the status quo. RSLs' views were relatively mixed with half of those who provided a view considering the outcomes should be changed. Table 15.1 in Annex 2 provides a breakdown of views by category of respondent.
Views of those in favour of keeping the outcomes as they are
15.3 The issue of rents and services charges was perceived as being very important, with these outcomes viewed as detailed and clear by many respondents across a range of sectors. A few welcomed what they understood to be the explicit inclusion of tenants' voices in decision-making in this area.
Views of those in favour of changing the outcomes
15.4 Contrasting views emerged between some social landlords who perceived tenants not to be interested in getting information on how rent and other money is spent, particularly those on housing benefit, and many TRGs who felt that landlords were not involving tenants sufficiently in consultation in a meaningful way.
15.5 A recurring comment was that social landlords also need to comply with Housing Revenue Account guidelines when setting rent and service charges.
15.6 Individual respondents questioned the meaning of words and terms, one suggesting that "consultation" be amended to "discussion"; the other asking for clarity on what constituted "service charges".
15.7 The notion of affordability came under focus with four respondents in particular agreeing that the concept is important, but raising their concerns that there is not an accepted and practical method for assessing this.
Scotland's Housing Network:
"Affordability is obviously a key concept for current and future customers. The Charter should focus social landlords on delivering services that are affordable, and guidance and/or definitions around affordability would be welcome".
Question 14b): Please provide any suggestions on how we could improve the supporting narrative
15.8 Some respondents considered that the text could benefit from re-drafting to make the meaning clearer.
15.9 A few respondents considered that the supporting narrative could promote transparency of information to a greater extent, one RSL suggesting that it should outline a minimum requirement regarding provision of detail in order to promote consistency across social landlords.
15.10 An emerging view from TRGs was that the narrative would benefit from being strengthened in places to make it more explicit that tenants should be involved in decision-making. One suggested the insertion of "must" before "reflect a landlord's legal duty…".