14. Setting up and Creating Sustainable Tenancies
Matching the applicant to the property is only the first part of creating a successful tenancy.
By working through this section readers will:
- find out about tenancy start processes and how they can be streamlined.
- be aware of ways to work with a new tenant to help them sustain their tenancy.
14.1 Tenancy start
Once an applicant has accepted an offer of housing, landlords will want to complete the tenancy sign-up process as quickly as possible to avoid rent loss. Landlords also need to be sensitive to individual applicants' circumstances, particularly where someone is moving because of health or disability-related issues and requires support to organise that move or where any welfare benefit related issues need to be addressed.
Some new tenants will also require specialist support at sign up stage such as translation services, literacy support or independent advocacy.
Having effective tenancy start processes in place will ensure that new tenants have a clear understanding of their tenancy responsibilities, such as paying their rent, from the outset, and help prevent housing management issues from arising in the future.
Practice example - Streamlined tenancy start processes, Link Housing Association
Link has carried out a review of its tenancy sign up process from the customer's point of view with the aim of streamlining the process and cutting out duplication.
From this they have committed to upgrade systems to allow the collecting of customer data only once, ensuring that this travels with the customer from application to full tenancy. They are in the process of developing a customer app and a customer online portal.
Link collects most data at application stage and when an applicant has been shortlisted for a property this information will be exported to an online pre-tenancy form. Housing Officers will use the pre-tenancy form on a tablet device and during an allocation visit, they will be able to check the form and updates or collect any further information required. An online income and expenditure assessment will also be available, and a referral instantly created to their advice team.
All relevant tenancy information will be held electronically on a tablet device, including the tenancy agreement which can be digitally signed. A copy of this and other tenancy documents can then be emailed to the tenant or a hard copy provided if they prefer.
Rent payments will be taken at sign up and direct debit mandates or other future payment methods agreed.
An online account will be created at the point of sign up and the tenant will be shown how to report repairs and pay rent through the online portal. Tenants who don't wish to use this online service can still use more traditional approaches to report repairs or pay their rent.
All landlords should routinely be providing clear information on the services they provide to their tenants including information for new tenants. This is usually done with a tenancy handbook which sets out the key information that tenants will need throughout their tenancy. Many landlords involve their tenants in developing or reviewing tenancy information to ensure it is clear and understandable from a tenant perspective.
Generally, tenancy information or handbooks include:
- the tenancy agreement, including the rights and responsibilities of signing either a Scottish Secure Tenancy Agreement or a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy Agreement. It could also cover the rights and responsibilities of the landlord;
- the Scottish Social Housing Charter and what standards and services tenants can expect from their landlord;
- how to access services including online portals;
- how to make enquiries and complaints and get advice;
- being a good neighbour, including how to get on with neighbours and respecting the local environment;
- what antisocial behaviour is and how to report this;
- rent payments and money advice, including when rent is due, how rent can be paid and where to seek advice and support about money issues;
- tenant and customer participation, including how to get involved with tenant scrutiny and other ways to influence how their landlord delivers services;
- what to do if moving on, including how to give notice and what must be done before leaving a property;
- reporting repairs, including what type of repairs the landlord is responsible for, how to report repairs, how long it will take to do different types of repairs and what to do in an emergency;
- heating and energy efficiency, including how to get the best from the heating system and how to use it the most efficient and economical way; and
- contact information, including for the landlord and for other key services.
14.2 Supporting tenants to sustain their tenancy
Scottish Social Housing Charter Outcome 11: Tenancy sustainment. Social landlords ensure that tenants get the information they need on how to obtain support to remain in their home; and ensure suitable support is available, including services provided directly by the landlord and by other organisations.
How well a landlord supports people to handle the transition from applicant to tenant can have a real impact on the likelihood of their tenancy succeeding. Some applicants will need support to help them get settled in and maintain their tenancy and this needs to be identified at an early stage. There are a wide variety of people who are particularly likely to struggle to sustain a tenancy and who may need extra support. Some of the factors that indicate someone may need support include:
- being in debt, including welfare-benefit related debt associated with the introduction of Universal Credit;
- having a history of behaving antisocially;
- being dissatisfied with the property offered and/or its condition;
- lacking the necessary possessions or resources to make the tenancy into a home; and
- younger tenants, including those for whom it is a first tenancy.
Setting up and maintaining an effective relationship with new tenants at the outset through accompanied viewing, tenancy sign-up and settling-in visits, will help landlords identify those who might benefit from extra support. The initial support offered could include making sure that the new tenant understands their responsibility to pay rent and keep to their tenancy conditions, along with the implications of not doing so. The type of support required is wide ranging and could include:
- helping with welfare-benefit applications in order to prevent a delay in the payment of the housing element of Universal Credit;
- providing or signposting to money advice and welfare benefit checks; and
- ongoing housing management support.
Assessing support needs and working with others to put support packages in place for specific needs will also be key to creating a sustainable tenancy. Under the 2001 Act, "housing support services" includes any service which provides support, assistance advice or counselling to an individual with particular needs with a view to enabling that individual to occupy, or continue to occupy, as the person's sole or main residence, residential accommodation other than excepted accommodation".
Local authorities have a housing support duty to those found to be homeless or threatened with homelessness (amendment to Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (inserted by Housing (Scotland) Act 2010)).
Further information on housing support can be found on the Housing Support Enabling Unit's website at: http://www.ccpscotland.org/hseu/
The social housing sector plays a key role in housing people with health or disability-related housing needs and landlords will want to work with other key services to ensure that new or existing tenants with particular needs are able to access the support they require. This might include access to Assistive Technology or Technology Enabled Care.
Some tenants will require support from their landlord throughout the duration of their tenancy and this can be achieved by having effective housing management processes in place. Tenancy sustainment and the prevention of homelessness are also strongly interlinked and early action to support tenancy sustainment is vital. The Prevention of Homelessness Guidance offers advice on tenancy sustainment and is available for the Scottish Government's website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/prevention-homelessness-guidance/pages/11/
Lacking the necessary possessions or resources to make the tenancy into a home could be one of the reasons why a new tenant might struggle to sustain their tenancy. Landlords could consider offering practical support at the point a new tenant is moving into their new home. This could include supporting a new tenant to access the furniture and white goods they will need, including through an application to the Scottish Welfare Fund.
Practice example - Furnishing Service, Wheatley Group
The Wheatley Group was aware that some of its tenants had difficulty getting even the basic furniture needed to turn a property into a home.
A Furnishing Service pilot was successfully launched in 2016/17 and a new service model was developed in response to customer feedback based on a 'mix and match' points concept.
This allowed customers to build their own package of furniture in a few simple steps with the support of their Housing Officer. A unique feature of this new model was that, for the first time, customers could choose between recycled Home Comforts furniture and new furniture from Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries.
The successful opening of the Wedge showroom has ensured customers have a pleasant environment to shop in, giving them a sense of pride and ownership of their items. It has increased the attractiveness of the Home Comforts reused items and has highlighted that customers are just as likely to choose these items over new furniture in the future.
For its most vulnerable customers, the Wheatley Group believe this service is pivotal in maintaining tenancy sustainment and prevention of homelessness.
The main reason for the eviction of tenants in the social rented sector is rent arrears. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 strengthened protection for tenants in the social rented sector facing eviction for rent arrears. Pre-action requirements set out what a landlord must do as a minimum before taking eviction action for rent arrears. The legislation was introduced to improve consistency of practice by landlords to ensure eviction for rent arrears is a last resort. Landlords must give tenants in arrears every opportunity to take up help to manage their debts and agree an affordable repayment plan before taking action to evict.
The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 and 2010 Guidance for Social Landlords on Pre-Action Requirements and Seeking Repossession of Social Housing is available from the Scottish Government's website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/housing-scotland-act-2001-2010-guidance-social-landlords-pre-action/
Although landlords will want a new tenancy to start as soon as possible, they should also be sensitive to each applicant's circumstances.
New tenants need to know what their rights are and the services they can expect from their landlord as well as their responsibilities as a tenant in terms of paying their rent and keeping to their tenancy conditions.
Many landlords provide new tenants with a tenancy handbook which sets out the key information that tenants will need throughout their tenancy.
Some applicants will need support to help them get settled in and maintain their tenancy - this needs to be identified at an early stage.
Following the transition from applicant to tenant, landlords should continue to provide support to tenants who need it throughout the duration of their tenancy.
Effective housing management processes can help to sustain tenancies by identifying issues at an early stage.
Tenancy sustainment and the prevention of homelessness are strongly interlinked.
Email: Claire McHarrie