A New Deal for Tenants: consultation analysis

Analysis of responses to the consultation on the draft rented sector strategy A New Deal for Tenants.

Part Three: Supply of Rented Homes

Increasing supply

The consultation paper notes that the principle that everyone should have access to a good quality, warm safe and secure home underpins the Scottish Government’s long-term housing strategy – Housing to 2040. Ensuring an adequate supply of high quality, energy efficient housing is key to this strategy, and this is reflected in the commitment of significant public funds to deliver new housing over the life of Housing to 2040. However, the Scottish Government recognises that public funds alone will not be sufficient to deliver the supply required to ensure that people in Scotland can access the housing they need at a price they can afford. The Scottish Government also recognises that both private rented and social rented homes have a role to play in achieving this target.

Affordable Housing Supply Programme

For the social rented sector, the consultation paper notes that the Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP) seeks to increase supply primarily in the social sector. Most homes are new build, but the programme also funds the acquisition of existing homes for sale on the open market.

Question 51– How do we ensure that we are achieving the right balance between building new properties and acquiring existing properties through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme?

Around 305 non-campaign respondents made a comment at Question 51.

Acquisition of existing properties

Most of these respondents agreed that acquisition of existing properties should be part of the approach to meeting housing need across Scotland. This included comments identifying a range of possible benefits associated with bringing existing stock into social rented supply. These included the potential to:

  • Rapidly increase available social rented housing. However, it was also suggested that current guidance and regulations can extend the timescale for acquisitions.
  • Target acquisition to address specific unmet housing needs, such as accessible homes or properties for larger families. It was noted that this approach would bring particular benefits in areas where there is no overall shortage of housing supply but there is a mismatch between existing housing stock and current and future housing need.
  • Increase the social housing stock in areas where land constraints limit the scope for new build development.
  • Bring empty buildings back into use or preserve their use as a residential property for the long term. However, a number of non-campaign respondents noted that acquisition of existing properties does not increase the total housing supply, expressing a view that new build development must be the focus, particularly in areas with an overall shortage of supply. This included particular concern rural housing shortages and the need to increase the rate of new affordable housing development in some rural areas.
  • Resolve issues associated with mixed tenure closes or apartment blocks, for example where the social landlord already has majority ownership but private landlords are unable or unwilling to support the investment required by forthcoming property standards.

It was also noted that acquisition will come with lower carbon generation in comparison with new build development. However, it was also reported that social landlords may face significant challenges in meeting energy efficiency and climate impact targets through retrofit of existing housing. For example, retrofit of energy efficiency measures to existing buildings was described as significantly more costly and time consuming than for new build development.

Some were of the view that landlords will require further incentive and support to address these challenges if acquisition of existing buildings is to make a significant contribution to social housing supply. In addition to calls for increased funding via the AHSP, there was reference to the difference in rates of VAT charged on labour and materials for new build and for refurbishment.

The need for a strategic approach and due diligence was also highlighted. In terms of due diligence, the importance of ensuring that that acquisition of existing properties does not leave social landlords owning properties that are not fit-for-purpose and/or are not suitable for local housing need was highlighted.

There were also calls for the Affordable Supply Working Group to be reconvened to: review the current AHSP position; consider the extent to which rents can be relied upon as the primary funding source; and identify additional actions required to ensure local housing needs are met. Some noted that housing supply targets should take account of future plans for acquisition of existing buildings and the potential for this to have an impact on the supply of homes for private rent or sale.

Overall supply

Other comments were primarily concerned with the overall volume of affordable housing supply.

Some non-campaign respondents cited evidence relating to the significant additional supply of affordable housing that will be required over the next 5-10 years. It was suggested that landlords’ focus should be on delivering against housing supply requirements identified by Local Development Plans (LDPs) and Strategic Housing Investment Plans (SHIPs).

This included a view that an appropriate balance between new development and existing properties must be set at a local level, driven by priorities identified by LDP and SHIP including, for example, the profile and distribution of housing need. It was suggested that consideration of this balance should be incorporated as part of the HNDA, with the SHIP setting specific targets for new build and acquisition. This included calls for engagement with Health and Social Care partners to inform targets for homes to meet particular housing needs.

Balance between existing and new supply

While many of those commenting highlighted the primary importance of ensuring sufficient supply of social housing, some did offer views on how the most appropriate balance of new build and existing buildings should be determined. This included a view that new build development is likely to continue to account for the majority of new social rented housing supply, for example given the potential for larger scale new development achieving economies of scale.

It was also noted that new build development can bring additional benefits not associated with the purchase of existing properties – for example, supporting regeneration, creation of jobs and apprenticeships and the delivery of community benefits. On this basis, some non-campaign respondents suggested that AHSP funding should be targeted at the development of new affordable housing.

Others suggested a more tailored approach, for example with new build supply being prioritised in areas with sufficient land supply and evident need for social housing, and acquisition of existing buildings targeted in areas with more limited scope for new development.

Funding levels

There were a number of concerns about the scale and scope of the investment required to deliver the affordable housing needed.

These concerns included reports that AHSP grants cover less than half of the total cost of providing new social housing – whether that is through new housing development or acquiring existing housing. Reference was also made to examples of local authorities using a variety of funding sources to purchase homes on the open market. There were concerns that this could lead to landlords increasing rents in order to cover any shortfall in funding.

Some non-campaign respondents were of the view that limited funding support and increasing construction costs mean that targets for new affordable housing cannot be met without unaffordable rent increases. In this context, there were calls for increased Scottish Government investment to ensure that AHSP grants do not continue to leave a shortfall in the cost of new social housing supply.

Respondents also suggested that a similar shortfall in funding for the refurbishment of existing housing has acted as a disincentive to greater use of acquisitions. There were calls for increased flexibility in funding for acquisition of existing homes, for example including a higher limit on funding per property and a facility for landlords to retain any underused buy-back subsidy for subsequent purchases of existing homes.

Some also wished to see support for landlords to explore opportunities beyond the open market. This included reference to options to purchase former rental properties or empty properties that are not being actively marketed for sale or rent. These respondents cited examples of local authority officers helping to identify opportunities to bring empty homes back into use as social housing.

Question 52 – here has the acquisition of existing stock for the Affordable Housing Supply programme worked well? Are there other opportunities to engage with owners/landlords to allow first refusal to those delivering the Affordable Housing Supply Programme?

Around 135 non-campaign respondents made a comment at Question 52.

A frequently-made point was that there is likely to be significant interest across social landlords in use of stock acquisitions to increase social housing supply. While reference was made to significant regional variation in the extent to which acquisitions have been used to date, several ‘Local authority’ respondents described well-established schemes for the acquisition of existing buildings, while others reported plans to expand their use of acquisitions. It was also reported that acquisition work has been supported through positive engagement between social landlords and other key partners, such as AHSP local teams.

Reference was also made to the relationship between local market conditions and opportunities for acquisition. For example, some highlighted the role of acquisitions in areas of high demand where land supply for new development is constrained, including rural areas. In contrast, others referred to more targeted and limited use of acquisitions to meet particular needs where there were gaps in social rented supply.

Benefits of acquisitions

Reflecting themes from the previous question, respondents identified a number of benefits associated with using acquisitions to add to the social housing supply. Examples included the potential for them to be used to avoid eviction of private tenants, and to target areas in which housing conditions are generally poor.

There was a view that acquisitions have been most effective where they are driven by local strategic priorities, and it was recommended that local authorities should develop acquisition strategies to identify local priorities. Some also noted that their approach to acquisitions had been informed by Housing to 2040 priorities.

Respondents also cited specific examples of stock acquisition being used to meet specific housing needs and wider policy priorities. These included acquisition of existing stock in city and urban areas to improve property condition, address poor standards of management by private landlords and support regeneration. There was reference to the refurbishment of vacant and derelict buildings and to the use of compulsory purchase powers. Respondents also referenced:

  • Targeting acquisitions to consolidate block ownership where mixed ownership is a barrier to property repair and/or capital investment. This included reference to specific targeting of blocks where the social landlord already owns 50% or more properties.
  • Examples of empty homes officers working to identify long-term vacant properties that were not being actively marketed but which could be suitable for acquisition by a social landlord. This included reference to: former Ministry of Defence properties; disused public sector buildings, such as hospitals; and ground floor shops in tenement buildings for conversion into wheelchair accessible properties.
  • The use of acquisitions to meet specific gaps in existing social rented provision, most commonly provision of family accommodation, ground floor properties as accessible housing, and smaller properties for homeless households. Respondents also reported use of acquisitions to expand social rented supply in areas where social housing has been absent.
  • Examples of acquisitions being used to prevent the eviction of owners or private tenants.

Potential opportunities for acquisitions arising in less pressured housing markets – for example, as a result of private developers being unable to sell properties on the open market – were also highlighted.

Right of first refusal

There was some support for a right of first refusal, and a view that this would be welcomed by many social landlords. This included suggestions that non-participation by owners has been an issue for some landlords. It was noted that acquisitions have been more successful where landlords can liaise effectively with owners and landlords, including reference to examples of owners approaching local authorities to discuss opportunities for acquisition. However, it was also suggested that use of such a scheme must ensure that acquisitions are guided by clear strategic priorities – for example, including the delivery of energy efficiency and property condition targets.

Some non-campaign respondents were looking for more detail on how first refusal would operate, suggesting that further definition and discussion is required to identify appropriate parameters for such agreements. For example, it was suggested that first refusal should apply only where an acquisition would contribute to an identified strategic need. Concern was also raised that sufficient financial support would be required to encourage landlords and owners to give first refusal – for example, some were of the view that district valuations are not usually sufficient to encourage sales to the social rented landlords.

Responses identified potential barriers to a right of first refusal, including that:

  • Additional Scottish Government investment in the AHSP would be required. This reflected concern that current investment levels are not sufficient to support acquisitions in addition to new affordable housing development.
  • The cost of acquisitions can be higher per unit than new build development. For example, there was reference to market pressure and price inflation as key barriers to acquisitions by social landlords, and to the cost of refurbishment to bring properties up to social rented standards.

The potential for acquisitions to increase competition on the open market, especially for lower income buyers, was also highlighted. However, some also noted that where social landlords refuse to purchase above the home report value, this often leads to landlords being out-bid by private households. It was suggested that in some areas, acquisitions are more likely to be properties requiring significant refurbishment, which are less attractive to other buyers.

Future approaches

Specific approaches or considerations highlighted by non-campaign respondents in relation to the future use of acquisitions included:

  • Greater flexibility in acquisition arrangements may be needed, for example to enable landlords to offer market value, or to enable acquisition of private rented properties with sitting tenants to prevent evictions. In relation to the latter point, it was suggested that the requirement for vacant possession has limited the use of acquisitions to date.
  • Calls for targeting acquisitions to specific geographical areas, for example where social landlords are experiencing particular challenges around multiple ownership within blocks.

There were also calls for more discussion and awareness raising around the potential benefits of using acquisitions as a route to expanding the social housing supply.

Mid-market Rent

MMR is a type of affordable housing aimed at assisting households on low to modest incomes to access affordable rented accommodation in the PRS. Rents for MMR homes should be set at a level which is higher than social rents but lower than the midpoint of private rents.

The consultation paper notes that most MMR housing is delivered by RSLs with funding through the AHSP. However, other funding sources have also been used and the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) has the ability to invest in MMR where this meets the Bank’s missions.

Question 53 – Beyond the routes already available to deliver Mid-market Rent homes how could new, additional investment in this be supported?

Around 160 non-campaign respondents made a comment at Question 53.

Many of those commenting supported a continuing role for MMR in Scotland and saw a need for additional investment to support the sector. This included reference to perceived benefits and specific examples of successful delivery of MMR. In addition to providing affordable housing to those unable to access other sectors, there was support for the contribution that MMR can make to wider economic and regeneration objectives, with particular reference to delivery of MMR in town centres.

Reflecting these positive views, some non-campaign respondents suggested that MMR has become a popular housing option across Scotland. However, it was also suggested this is, at least in part, because many MMR developments have been in high demand locations with good local amenities. In this context, there were calls for further guidance on how investment plans can include MMR to contribute to the delivery of place and community targets.

Questions were raised about the anticipated size and role of MMR in Scotland, along with how ‘affordability’ should be understood in relation to this form of housing. A frequently-held view was that the need for alternative housing options, such as MMR, is primarily driven by a shortfall in funding of new social rented housing. Respondents holding this view saw a need for an increase in overall affordable housing investment and suggested that the Scottish Government should prioritise funding for ‘genuinely affordable’ social rented housing. For some, the preference was for MMR to be delivered through existing funding mechanisms, with calls for additional Scottish Government support for these.

Respondents also highlighted a number of issues or barriers to be considered including that:

  • Tenants can become ‘trapped’ in MMR properties, unable to save a deposit to buy, unable to access other private renting due to high rents, and unable to access social housing due to being low priority.
  • The viability of MMR is dependent on LHAs allowing a sufficient gap between social and private rent levels.

It was also noted that the scope for MMR within a local market is also a key factor in attracting private investment. In this context, some wished to see more fine-grained LHAs to help identify potential MMR rents at a smaller geographic level, for example to identify more pressured sub-markets. Others saw a need for greater flexibility on MMR rent thresholds in areas with lower rent levels where MMR could offer benefits in terms of diversifying the housing stock.

Investment mechanisms

A number of non-campaign respondents saw a need for a clearer policy framework to attract new investment for MMR, including calls for promotion of examples of how different models of MMR investment could operate.

There were comments in support of a role for the SNIB. For example, it was suggested that the SNIB could address the gap in mezzanine or equity funding, affordably priced to reflect the low risk of default and potential for positive outcomes for local communities.

There was also support for the use of private investment from large institutional lenders. However, it was noted that the current MMR model would still require public subsidy, with a view that private sector interest in investment remains strong, in large part due to Scottish Government subsidy. There was thought to be a need for continuing grant subsidy to enable landlords to attract private investment. It was also reported that landlords face challenges attracting different types of funding, such as mezzanine or equity investment. The higher rate of return typically required by investors, and constraints on MMR income due to LHAs limiting rent increases were noted.

Other suggestions for new mechanisms and investment sources for MMR in Scotland included:

  • Support (both financial and advice) to local authorities around the initial design and setup of their MMR mechanisms, with comments that that this will be a new venture for some.
  • Encouraging partnerships between social landlords and private developers.
  • Support for social landlords accessing ‘less traditional’ investors, including ‘green’ finance and pension funds. However, some raised concerns around an approach requiring payment of a percentage of a tenant’s rent as a return to investors.
  • Providing grant funding to upgrade vacant or derelict buildings for use as MMR.
  • Encouraging private landlords to enter the sector, for example by providing financial or other incentives to upgrade properties for provision as MMR.

There were also a number of suggestions for ways in which investment could be facilitated, these included:

  • Relaxing restrictions on how subsidy is secured to attract investment with more limited public subsidy.
  • Relaxing MMR financial eligibility criteria to realise sufficient demand, helping to attract private investment.
  • Providing sufficient flexibility to respond to local conditions, for example in terms of the mix between grant and debt financing and the scale of the discount.

There was also a call for focused engagement between social landlords and high street lenders to better understand barriers to potential funding for MMR.

Build to Rent Sector

The consultation paper notes that, although well established in many European cities, Build to Rent (BtR) has not been a significant contributor to new rented housing supply in Scotland. While the private rented sector focus of Housing to 2040 is primarily around the more affordable end of market rents, the consultation paper highlights potential for BtR to boost investment and housebuilding across the housing market as a whole.

Question 54 – What measures can we put in place to help encourage Build-to-Rent developments in Scotland?

Around 280 non-campaign respondents made a comment at Question 54.

Role for BtR

Some of those commenting saw BtR playing a role in the mix of housing tenures across Scotland’s communities. This included as a means of supporting the overall increase in housing supply required, and in growing and improving the PRS, with some suggesting that BtR could support further professionalisation of the sector. There was also particular support for the potential role of BtR in placemaking and regeneration for both town and city centres.

However, there were also calls for a clearer policy framework for BtR, setting out the anticipated size and role of the sector in Scotland and how this will relate to other tenures. This reflected a view – informed by experience for some – that shared strategic aims are important in guiding the approach to BtR. As noted above, urban regeneration was identified as a key policy focus for the sector, and some also wished to see a role for BtR in delivering 20-minute neighbourhoods.

BtR development was also described as complementing existing housing options for those wishing to rent, although there were questions around the rent levels anticipated for BtR properties and how these will be balanced between affordable and market-led rents. For example, some noted that BtR could have a role in areas where market rent levels constrain scope for MMR but there is need and demand at the more affordable end of market rents.

There was also a view that the policy framework for BtR, and the PRS as a whole, should be focused on creating the socio-economic conditions to encourage investment in the sector. For example, some suggested that investors and developers will find ways of providing housing if the right economic environment is present. This included reference to a need for high quality, high productivity economies in towns and city centres.

Some non-campaign respondents wished to see emphasis on the potential for BtR development to contribute to positive socio-economic impacts, in rural and other areas. It was suggested that these impacts should sit alongside financial returns as an encouragement for investors, including investors with a particular focus on corporate social responsibility.

In terms of those financial returns, it was suggested that challenges are likely to be particularly significant in rural areas. Respondents referred to higher building costs in remote rural and island areas.

Concerns about BtR

Although some respondents supported or saw potential in the BtR approach, others raised concerns. A frequently-expressed view was that the for-profit high-rent sector is not a solution to the challenges facing social and private tenants in Scotland. A small number of ‘Local authority’ respondents questioned whether there is a significant role for BtR provision in their area.

BtR developments were also seen by some as primarily targeting younger and smaller households, with a relatively small proportion of affordable homes, often with clauses allowing these to return to market rents after a set period. It was suggested that resources should be directed to support provision of affordable homes before encouraging the development of more market rent housing.

There was also concern that some areas may face challenges in attracting investment for BtR development, for example where local markets cannot support the scale of development required by traditional investors. Some noted that, to date, BtR development in Scotland has primarily been completed to a high specification, above average rent city properties. Proposals for rent controls and additional regulatory requirements were also cited as potentially dissuading investors from the PRS.

Ways of supporting BtR

There were a number of suggestions relating to how BtR could be supported, including that incentives will be required to encourage BtR development and that a suitable financial model will be needed if investment is to be attracted.

In terms of incentives, there was reference to: tax relief; matched public investment; public financial guarantees; easing of planning requirements; and identification of sufficient land supply. There was also thought to be a need for further detail on the likely balance between development and management costs, along with likely financial returns through rents. Some non-campaign respondents noted that the Scottish Government has an opportunity to differentiate from the rest of the UK by providing more favourable conditions for investment.

Additionally, there was thought to be a need for more robust evidence on the potential scale of demand for BtR housing. Some referred to the quantification of need for affordable housing and total housing supply through the HNDA process and wished to see similar estimates around potential demand for private rented housing (including for sub-markets such as BtR). This was seen as critical in providing a clear positive message to developers, in empowering planning services to facilitate BtR projects and in encouraging private investment.

Other suggestions included:

  • Sending a clear policy signal that a more diverse range of property types and community mix is required of BtR development in Scotland.
  • Encouraging investment to be diverted from buy-to-rent to more stable, longer-term investment in BtR.
  • Local authorities identifying potential sites for BtR development, including suggestions that this should include a focus on redevelopment of brownfield and post-industrial sites.
  • Local authorities working with developers to help to minimise costs associated with provision of infrastructure around proposed developments, particularly to bring vacant or derelict buildings back into residential use.
  • BtR developers working in partnership with planning authorities to co-develop sites, for example for provision of social rented properties and/or BtR properties where social landlords have nominations rights. It was also suggested that an evaluation of current pipeline BtR development should be undertaken to identify developments that will promote placemaking and regeneration.
  • A role for RSLs in developing wholly private BtR developments, drawing on their experience in developing MMR properties.

Reducing the regulatory burden on PRS properties. This included suggestions that the need to register BtR properties as HMOs could be removed as BtR developments already meet building regulations and are therefore appropriate for multiple occupation.

Social Rented Sector Allocations

The consultation paper notes that, given the important role social housing plays in providing secure long-term housing solutions, social housing allocations policy is important in ensuring the right provision. All social landlords have a published allocation policy and have a duty to make and publish rules covering priority of allocation of houses, transfers and exchanges. This means that any allocation policy should set out clearly how the landlord will decide on priority for housing.

Question 55 – Is the current approach to social rented sector housing allocations achieving the right balance between supporting existing social tenants and those who are seeking a home within the social sector?

Around 150 non-campaign respondents made a comment at Question 55. Some of these respondents simply noted that they had no particular expertise relating to social housing and/or that this question would be best addressed by those who live and work in social housing.

Those who did express a view were most likely to believe that the current approach is not achieving the right balance between supporting existing social tenants and those who are seeking a home within the social sector. Reflecting some of the themes covered at the previous questions, there was a view that the crux of the issue is a lack of supply, and quite simply that there are not enough socially rented homes to meet demand.

Associated points were that the only way to address this is with national long term investment to increase the supply of social housing. Other comments included that assessments of housing need and demand, along with resource planning assumptions, need to reconsider how affordability is defined. This view reflected some of the issues raised in relation to affordable rents at Questions 40 - 45.

There was also a view that the pressure statutory homeless services, and the proportion of available lets that are required to secure accommodation for homeless households, is creating more homelessness. It was reported that some people see the statutory homes route as the only way to access the social rented sector. There were also references to some people waiting for social homes for years and others being housed quickly, as well as existing tenants no longer being able to move easily to meet their needs or aspirations.

Other comments about who is currently prioritised for social housing included that:

  • Allocation policies prioritise those in housing need, based on various criteria. This reinforces social housing’s role as a ‘tenure of last resort’ and means that those with low priority are effectively forced to remain in the less secure and less affordable PRS.
  • The current system does not allow for mixed communities that can thrive and does not support people’s needs or desires to move to another local authority area.
  • A refreshed look at prioritisation processes and categories might help ensure that households are consistently and accurately prioritised based on their level of need.

Comments made by those who thought that the right balance is generally being achieved included that allocation policies are underpinned by a clear legal framework, subject to regular review and informed by consultation with stakeholders. It was also suggested that the current allocations framework works well in ensuring those assessed with the greatest housing need are prioritised. However, it was recognised that, particularly within a pressured housing system, allocations based on housing need mean that generally only those that are vulnerable either through homelessness, serious health related conditions or extreme need will be offered social housing.

Some ‘Local authority’ respondents commented on their own approach, including that letting plans and allocation policies are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure a balanced approach that meets the needs of existing social tenants and those who are seeking a home within the social sector. In terms of the balance between those groups, examples of current policy included:

  • One local authority reporting recent implementation of a new housing allocation policy which sets a target for 30% of lets to transfer applicants. It was expected that this will significantly increase the number of lets to existing tenants compared to previous years, and that the approach will create a vacancy chain that will significantly increase the overall number of lets made – thereby helping to increase the number of lets to homeless households. It was also reported that this approach can help address issues such as under occupation and moving on from specialist provision housing that is no longer needed.
  • Another local authority noting that 70% of their housing goes to people currently in need, 5% is made available for specialist housing and about 25% of housing is available for transfers of existing tenants. They reported that, given very limited availability, transferring possibilities are very low. In terms of the impact this can have on those waiting for a transfer, an example given was someone who is employed at some distance from their home and the resource and childcare implications a long commute can have.

It was also suggested that the current flexibility for social landlords in setting their allocation policy is essential to ensure they can determine this based on their stock/organisational profile and take account of the local context in relation to supply and demand for social housing. It was suggested that any consideration of potential changes or additional requirements must take account of the pressure on social housing and that any proposals must also align with the changes being made to homelessness legislation and the consultation on Prevention of Homelessness Duties.

There was also a query about why this issue is being raised as part of this consultation. It was reported that every so often over the years, the practice of giving a degree of priority to transfer applicants is questioned. However, it was also reported that the practice is a critical element of good housing management, helping landlords respond to genuine housing need whilst making best use of stock and supporting the maintenance of cohesive communities.

Nevertheless, there were some suggestions about how the approach could be rebalanced and/or groups that should be given higher priority. They included that it would be beneficial if regulation and legislation emphasised expectations of all social landlords in delivering the national priority to end homelessness. Other homelessness-focused suggestions included that:

  • There should be a regulatory requirement that all registered providers of mainstream social housing set an annual guideline target for the minimum proportion of social lettings to homeless nominees and report on this publicly.
  • All social housing providers should fulfil their responsibilities to cooperate with local authorities in meeting their homelessness duties and are encouraged to adopt best practice in supporting homeless people into social housing.

In relation to priorities more generally, the following were suggested:

  • Affordability should be a consideration within the reasonable preference categories.
  • In areas of socio-economic fragility, more consideration could be given to how allocations could assist those who are seeking a home within the social sector, beyond those with key worker status. The connection was made to the repopulation of remote rural and island communities.
  • Allowing local authorities more freedom in the allocation of new build (or newly acquired) stock to their existing tenants, will in turn allow good tenants to be rewarded and thus improve the management of new developments.
Question 56 – What more can be done to support people with protected characteristics trying to access social rented homes?

Around 190 non-campaign respondents made a comment at Question 56. Some of these comments reflected points made at earlier questions, and at Question 1 in particular. They included queries about what is meant by protected characteristics and suggestions that nothing more can or should be done.

Understanding the issues

A number of non-campaign respondents commented on the importance of having a clear understanding of the barriers people with protected characteristics face in trying to access social housing. In terms of how this understanding could or should be achieved, comments included that improved data collection is needed to accurately analyse and predict housing need, determine supply and assess the impact on groups.

The recent national guidance on Collecting Equality Data was noted, and it was also reported that the SHR’s requirement for RSLs to collect equalities data from their tenants will be implemented later this year. However, it was suggested that there may still be a case for considering whether there are any gaps around access to social housing for those with protected characteristics.

A ‘Public body or agency’ respondent reported that they are in the process of restructuring their data gathering processes to allow for the capture of 25 different vulnerability points. It is expected that this will help to provide the best support that enquirers or complainants with protected characteristics may need, and will also allow cross-referencing of vulnerability categories to see if there are any patterns in the data.

It was suggested that having a greater understanding of the number and profile of people with protected characteristics in a particular area, and their requirements, would help tailor homes to the population. Accurate analysis of supply requirements through HNDAs, with their requirements then delivered through the LHS and SHIP was seen as key to delivering appropriate housing.

The importance of learning from, and consulting with, people with protected characteristics was also highlighted. There was a view that only through effective and ongoing engagement with people with protected characteristics, and agencies and partners providing support, can perceived and actual barriers to accessing social rented homes be effectively addressed in a robust and sustained way. It was suggested that this engagement would need to:

  • Be resourced adequately.
  • Take place at national and local level to understand the range of issues and to offer consistent and equitable service delivery that responds to particular local needs.

Ensuring that effective consultation extends to any review of policy, and that there is understanding of the equalities impact in any changes, was also seen as key.

Broader policy and practice responses

Other comments addressed broad policy responses and included that, as part of their policy review process, social housing providers need to ensure they are responsive to the specific needs of people across the full range of protected characteristics and that they work to remove any barriers that exist to those seeking access to social housing.

It was also suggested that more powers and resources should be given to organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, or to third sector organisations with a successful track record in advocating for, and supporting, people with protected characteristics. It was also noted that the SHR has a major role to play in ensuring that social landlords support people with protected characteristics to access social housing in practice.

In terms of ways in which people with protected characteristics can be supported, it was suggested that consideration should be given to the housing challenges and barriers particular groups face and how social landlords can employ measures to help people overcome these challenges. Involving and learning from people with protected characteristics was seen as central to this process being effective.

There was also a range of general practice-related suggestions, including:

  • Improving access to information and advice, including around housing options. Specific suggestions included developing Easy Read guides on what can be an extremely complex area.
  • Providing support for those with identified as having a protected characteristic, from the initial application stage through to the tenant taking possession of a tenancy.

A frequently made suggestion was that more funding needs to be available to fund support systems which allow people to maintain tenancies, regardless of whether they have protected characteristics. This was described as one of the fundamental factors of homelessness.

Supply of accessible housing

In line with comments at the previous question, it was also suggested that supporting people with protected characteristics to access social rented homes is, to some extent, a function of overall levels of supply. There was particular reference to the supply of accessible housing, with specific reference to wheelchair standard housing. It was also noted that the lack of accessible homes is also an issue in the PRS. A ‘Public body’ respondent reported that members of their Experts by Experience Panel have:

  • Had negative experiences of finding accessible housing in both the private and social sectors. Many panel members felt that the lack of accessible housing meant that rents charged for accessible properties tended to be higher than those charged for properties that were not accessible.
  • Come up against long waiting lists for accessible social housing, forcing them to find accommodation in the PRS. Some panel members had experienced greater choice in the PRS but felt that this benefit was outweighed by higher costs for rent and council tax.
  • Highlighted that having an accessible property is not enough in itself; living near family or friends and in areas that are accessible in terms of transport, services and facilities, is also very important.

It was suggested that a more detailed examination of the shortage of accessible and wheelchair standard housing is needed, including consideration of why social landlords can sometimes face difficulties in re-letting adapted properties. The consultation paper’s reference to increasing supply of accessible and adapted homes was welcomed, although it was also noted that no number-specific commitment has been made. It was also suggested that the commitment to establish an inclusive programme of retrofitting social homes could be more significant. Other supply-related suggestions included:

  • Setting targets within the new build programme to approve a percentage of new homes for disabled need, older people and larger family homes, as per housing need for each local authority.
  • Assessing opportunities to develop housing that is flexible and can be adapted to meet the changing needs of households in the future.
  • Making additional Housing Association Grant funding available for the provision of new build adapted properties.
  • Ensuring that any social housing provided through Section 75 agreements with developers is built to Housing for Varying Needs standards, including a minimum percentage of adapted housing where appropriate
Other supply issues

The shortage of larger family housing was also seen as an issue, and again one which applies across the rented sector. With specific reference to social housing, there were reports of significant waits for a larger property, including a situation where children have grown up and left home before a property of the right size became available. It was also reported that the shortage of larger family housing has a particular impact on housing associations’ capacity to assist minority ethnic households.

There was also a reference to providing more choices of affordable housing for older people.

Applying for social housing

A frequently-made point was that really listening to the prospective tenants’ needs from the beginning of the application process will be fundamental. Specific customer journey mapping was one suggestion for helping organisations understand barriers and requirements better.

There was also reference to the Match Me research finding that allocations should consider the needs of the whole household rather than the unmet needs of one applicant. In terms of other issues that need to be considered, there was reference to:

  • Choice Based Lettings systems as a possible barrier to some disabled applicants; there was a call for accessible alternatives enabling equitable bidding to be considered.
  • People with learning disabilities finding social housing allocation systems difficult to understand, including in relation to the implications of confining housing choices to certain locations.

Reflecting the general point about advice and information, it was suggested that better housing options advice is needed to aid understanding and enable choice. It was also noted that strengthened and targeted housing advice could be particularly important for ethnic minority households. Specific suggestions included:

  • Ensuring all application paperwork is provided in accessible formats, and multiple languages.
  • Social landlords allowing for online, paper, telephone and face-to-face applications.
  • Application material being available in multiple languages for people whose first language is not English.
  • Making practical support available to assist people who may struggle to apply for social housing on their own.

It was also suggested that social landlords should provide in-depth training for all their staff in how to meet the needs of tenants with protected characteristics and that they should also work closely with local social services to ensure that housing needs and rights are seen as key to people’s wellbeing.

Particular groups

Domestic abuse

With specific reference to domestic abuse, it was noted that the Scottish Government has accepted all the recommendations in Improving housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. This includes how homelessness strategies, policies and practice can improve responses to provide better outcomes for women and children. Key issues identified included:

It was reported that there is considerable work to be done to implement the recommendations and to improve housing outcomes for women and children, and that a recent survey of Women’s Aid groups found that few social landlords are implementing measures to prevent victim-survivors homelessness.

Mental health

In terms of allocations of social homes, it was also suggested that work needs to be done to ensure that mental health issues are treated in a similar way to physical disabilities. A ‘Third sector’ respondent reported that, in their experience, a doctor’s note confirming the mental health condition is often not accepted as proof, and a psychiatrist’s diagnosis is required. It was noted that this can be both difficult and costly to obtain and is often not an option.


Email: rentedstrategyconsultation@gov.scot

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