Scottish Social Housing Charter - A Consultation - An Analysis of Responses
This report summarises the responses to the Scottish Government's consultation document Scottish Social Housing Charter - A Consultation. The consultation paper set out, and sought views on the outcomes and standards all social landlords in Scotland should be achieving for their tenants and other customers. The consultation was structured around 33 questions which invited responses to the proposed standards and outcomes. In addition, the Scottish Government set up a dedicated webpage for the consultation.
- Almost all respondents welcomed the principle of a Scottish Social Housing Charter and felt that it was a positive step forward for social housing in Scotland.
- Most respondents felt that the themes covered within the Charter were sensible, and covered the core areas of social landlord service delivery.
- Generally, local authorities, tenant and resident groups and private individuals indicated their support to the proposed outcomes and standards. However, in a number of cases their support was qualified.
- Respondents - including RSLs, local authorities and tenant and resident groups - raised concerns about the number of outcomes and standards included within the Charter. There was particular concern that the number of outcomes and standards had more than doubled between the first and second consultation on the Charter.
- Many respondents felt that it would be possible to cover the principles of the outcomes through considered redrafting - removing duplication and repetition.
- A significant theme among respondents was that the Charter outcomes were not clearly drafted, and that there was a mix of outcomes, standards and processes without any clear distinction between these.
- Respondents - particularly local authorities, RSLs and representative bodies - had significant concerns about how the Charter outcomes would be monitored, measured and enforced. Some felt that monitoring requirements were disproportionate and at odds with the aim of creating a regulatory regime that minimises the burden on good landlords.
- Tenant and resident groups were broadly supportive of the outcomes and standards covered in the Charter. Some felt that the Charter could be worded more strongly and could provide stronger safeguards in relation to tenant participation, community consultation, and effective management and governance.
- RSL and local authority respondents felt that tenant satisfaction featured too prominently as a measure of achievement of the outcomes and standards. Many suggested that greater recognition should be given to the wide range of potential measures or indicators.
- A number of respondents - mainly equalities organisations - felt that the Charter should be more explicit about requirements in relation to equality and diversity.
Background to the consultation
The Scottish Social Housing Charter is introduced by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010. The Act requires Ministers to consult on and set the standards and outcomes that social landlords should be achieving for tenants and other customers.
The purpose of the Scottish Social Housing Charter is to:
- give tenants, homeless people and other customers a clear understanding of what they should expect from a social landlord;
- give landlords a clear understanding of what they should be delivering through their housing activities;
- provide the basis for the new Scottish Housing Regulator to monitor, assess and report on the performance of social landlords;
- give landlords the information they need to achieve continuous improvements in their performance and in the value for money they provide; and
- give tenants and other customers information on how their landlord is performing in relation to other landlords.
The draft Charter presents 71 proposed standards and outcomes across five key performance areas:
- the customer/landlord relationship;
- quality of housing and the environment;
- access to housing and support;
- getting good value for rents and service charges; and
- Gypsies/Travellers and other customers.
The Charter will replace the Performance Standards for Social Landlords and Homelessness functions that the Scottish Ministers set under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. It will remain in force for five years from April 2012 to end of March 2017, prior to which it will be reviewed.
Following a programme of stakeholder consultations in 2010 and publication of a Charter discussion paper in February 2011, the Scottish Government launched a formal consultation on the draft Scottish Social Housing Charter in August 2011.
A total of 248 responses were received to the consultation. Respondents included Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), tenant and resident groups, local authorities and private individuals.
There was some evidence of sharing of responses. This was primarily to be found among some RSLs sharing the response of a representative body, and among some tenant and resident groups operating in the same geographical areas.
The views of consultees
Overall many respondents welcomed the introduction of the Scottish Social Housing Charter and felt it was a positive step forward for social housing in Scotland.
Generally most tenant and resident groups, local authorities and private individuals supported the draft outcomes and standards in principle - but often suggested amendments. Disagreement was greater among RSLs.
There were a number of common themes in the comments made by respondents who indicated both their support and disagreement with the Charter draft outcomes and standards. These included:
Although the consultation paper outlines the intended purpose of the Charter, many still felt that the purpose was not clear. The main concern related to whether it was intended to be a statement of what tenants can expect from their landlord, or a wider framework for measuring and assessing the performance of social landlords.
A number of respondents indicated that they felt that the draft Charter was not workable as it currently stood, and would welcome considerable effort being put into restructuring and redrafting the Charter.
Number of outcomes and standards
Overall, most respondents felt that the themes covered within the draft Charter were sensible, and covered the core areas of social landlord service delivery. However, respondents from across all groupings - including RSLs, local authorities and tenant and resident groups - raised concerns about the number of outcomes and standards included within the draft Charter.
Almost all RSLs and local authorities felt that the number of outcomes and standards was unmanageable, and that the focus should be on a smaller number of key outcomes. Tenant and resident groups had more varied views. While some felt that it was important not to reduce the number of outcomes covered, others felt that the draft Charter was too long and needed to be concise.
Most felt that it would be possible to cover the principles of the outcomes through considered redrafting - removing the duplication or repetition which many felt occurred throughout the draft Charter.
Drafting an outcome
Respondents from across all groupings felt that the draft Charter outcomes were not clearly drafted, and that there was a mix of outcomes, standards and processes without any clear distinction between these.
Representative organisations such as COSLA and the Improvement Service highlighted the extensive work which has been undertaken nationally to develop clear outcomes accompanied by measurable indicators. It was felt that this expertise had not been drawn on in drafting the proposed Charter.
Measuring outcomes and standards
Many respondents - particularly local authorities, RSLs and representative bodies - had significant concerns about how the Charter outcomes and standards would be monitored, measured and enforced. Most were aware of the simultaneous consultation being undertaken by the Scottish Housing Regulator, which set out proposals for how the Charter would be used to monitor and compare landlord performance. However, many felt that having both consultations running at the same time made it very difficult to fully understand and comment on proposals for content of the Charter and its monitoring.
One key concern about monitoring related to the drafting of the outcomes and standards. Many respondents felt that the outcomes and standards were not precise enough to allow effective monitoring, with many of the outcomes being subjective and open to interpretation. Many highlighted that if the Charter is to be used for monitoring and comparing landlord performance, it needs to have clear, relevant and measurable outcomes and standards.
Many respondents felt that tenant satisfaction featured too prominently as a measure of whether outcomes and standards were being achieved. This was a particular issue for RSLs and local authorities - but was also raised by some tenant and resident groups. Respondents suggested that while tenant satisfaction was an appropriate and useful measure for some outcomes, it was overused and sometimes used inappropriately within the draft Charter. Many suggested that greater recognition required to be given to the wide range of potential measures (or indicators) of whether a landlord is achieving an outcome or standard - including both qualitative and quantitative information sources.
Impact on resources
Many social landlords and their representative bodies felt that the Charter as drafted would lead to significant additional reporting and monitoring responsibilities being placed on social landlords. These were seen as at odds with the aim of creating a regulatory regime that minimises the burden on good landlords.
Many felt that the increased regulatory burden contradicted the direction in which public services in Scotland were moving - quoting the principles of the Crerar Review and the Public Services Reform Act 2010. Others highlighted that it contradicted the draft Charter outcome of keeping rents as low as possible for tenants.
A minority of tenant and resident groups, and their representative bodies, also raised concerns about the resources involved and the potential impact on rents.
Landlord and tenant responsibility
Respondents raised concerns about the balance between landlord and tenants responsibilities within the draft Charter. Some social landlords felt that the draft Charter focused overly on tenant expectations, with the danger of some outcomes and standards raising tenant expectations beyond what they felt was reasonable.
Many landlords felt that tenant responsibilities, as well as landlord responsibilities, should be reflected in the Charter - given that many outcomes would require tenants and landlords to work together for these to be achieved. Some - such as COSLA and the Improvement Service - suggested that some of the outcomes did not reflect moves towards community empowerment as promoted through the Christie Commission report on the future of public services.
Another concern - again raised largely by RSLs and local authorities - was that some draft Charter outcomes and standards were outwith the remit and sole control of social landlords. Specific issues were raised in relation to the 'estate management' and 'antisocial behaviour, neighbour nuisance and tenancy disputes' outcomes. This was seen as having the potential to create confusion, and to cause difficulty monitoring and holding landlords to account.
The consultation specifically sought views on whether there should be a separate equalities outcome. A number of respondents - mainly equalities organisations - felt that the Charter should be more explicit about requirements in relation to equality and diversity. Many of those commenting felt that, having a specific outcome or standard on equalities, would focus the attention on this issue.
Others highlighted the need to focus on certain equalities issues within the Charter - including the rights of children and young people; the principles of independent living; housing accessibility; inclusive communication; and hate crime (particularly within the 'anti-social behaviour' outcomes and standards).
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland and Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF) set out alternative proposals for the Scottish Social Housing Charter. A total of 38 RSLs and local authorities indicated that they agreed with one of these three responses. Nine agreed with the SFHA response; six agreed with the CIH Scotland response; two agreed with both the SFHA and CIH responses; and 22 agreed with the GWSF response.
The SFHA response suggested reducing the Charter to a single page - with nine outcome statements covering communication and transparency; participation; allocations; rents and service charges; maintenanceand housing quality; tenancy sustainment; estate management; anti-social behaviour and complaints. It also suggested three further outcome statements, clearly marked as not applicable to all landlords, on homeless people; services for Gypsies/Travellers; and factoring. Finally, it proposed a range of potential performance measures for each outcome.
CIH Scotland suggested reducing the Charter to have five sections covering - the customer/landlord relationship; quality of housing and the environment; access to housing and support; getting good value from rents and service charges; and owners and other customers. Within each section they proposed a series of outcomes statements. This would reduce the total number of outcomes to 37.
The GWSF response suggested reducing the Charter to have five overarching outcomes covering - the customer/landlord relationship; quality of housing; neighbourhood and community; access to housing and support; and getting good value from rents and service charges. It provided draft text for each outcome. It then suggested that the remaining 'outcomes' within the Charter are clearly described as 'standards' - and clear measures of each standard are provided. These measures could include tenant satisfaction, but also other evidence. The principle behind these changes was to reduce the length of the Charter; to be clearer about the distinction between outcomes, standards and measures; and to reduce the reporting burden for social landlords.
A small number of respondents raised issues about the timescales for implementing the Charter. Some social landlords were concerned that the Charter would be implemented from April 2012 onwards, leaving limited time for development and awareness raising of the SHR's approach to monitoring Charter outcomes and standards. Some respondents were concerned that there would be no testing or early review process following the introduction of the Charter. Many respondents felt that the Charter required to be monitored earlier than five years from its implementation.
This document, along with full research report of the project, and further information about social and policy research commissioned and published on behalf of the Scottish Government, can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch. If you have any further queries about social research please contact us at email@example.com or on 0131-244 7560.
Email: Elinor Findlay