Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee
Priorities for Session 6 - Scottish Housing Regulator - 30 July 2021
Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee – Scottish Housing Regulator
Thank you for your letter dated 1 July 2021. We welcome the opportunity to provide the Committee with information on our work and priorities.
You asked me to provide some detail on our priorities within the Committee’s remit, including the financial implications for local government, planning and housing of the continuing pandemic. I noted that the Committee is especially keen to hear of examples of innovative practices arising from necessity over the last 18 months, which should continue beyond the pandemic to inform the Committee’s approach to considering the budget.
All our staff and the Board have worked remotely since March 2020 and continue to do so, in line with Scottish Government guidance. Like many other organisations we experienced the challenges of staff wellbeing and connectivity during the pandemic, but on the wholewe have continued to deliver effectively against our statutory objective to protect the interest of tenants and other users of social housing services such as people experiencing homelessness and Gypsy Travellers. You can read more about our work plans for 2021/22 here. We are currently recruiting the additional staff we need to deliver our priorities, although this is happening at a much slower pace than we anticipated, as we rely on HR services from the Scottish Government, which are under considerable pressure. So currently we are prioritising our work to fit with our available staff resources.
Tenants remain at the heart of our work and earlier this month we published research from our National Panel of around 500 tenants and service users. This gave a snapshot of the pandemic’s impact on landlords’ services and tenants’ quality of life. The feedback in this report underlines just how difficult the last year has been for tenants and landlords alike and provides context for our annual regulatory risk assessment of social landlords and our continued dialogue with tenants and landlords.
We are continuing to work with the Social Housing Resilience Group in supporting the recovery from the Pandemic. This work of the group started in March 2020 and it has been instrumental in helping social landlords respond to the pandemic as challenges unfolded. A key aspect of the work is a dashboard of information that we collect and publish regularly about the impact on social landlords. We published the March dashboard in April 2021,which highlighted falling rent arrears,an increase in lets being made and an increase in homeless application. We are in the process of producing the first quarterly dashboard for 2021/22 and hope to publish that in early August.
At the end of March 2021 we published plans for every social landlord in Scotland setting out how we will engage with each ofthem during the coming year. For the first time we also published a ‘Regulatory Status’ for each Registered Social Landlord (RSL), this describes whether we judge if a landlord complies with Regulatory Standards. We reported that 140 RSLs are compliant (with two under review) , 7 RSLs are working towards compliance, and we would continue our statutory intervention in two RSLs.You can read about the outcome of our risk assessment and access the Engagement Plans for every social landlord here. We are now focussed on delivering that engagement.
In May 2021 we published our national analysis of RSL finances and reported that most RSLs have coped well over the last year with the short term financial impacts of the pandemic. But, RSLs need to plan to respond to future financial risks and challenges as they recover the pandemic in managing their resources to ensure financial well-being, while maintaining rents at a level that tenants can afford to pay.
The climate agenda and zero emissions is very high on our agenda. In particular how important change including targets can be achieved, while keeping social housing affordable for tenants and service users. We have heard from landlords that funding the likely costs for decarbonising existing homes and planning that for will be very challenging. We monitor social landlords’ performance against the Scottish Government’s Energy Efficiency Standards for Scottish Social Housing (EESSH) and published the indicators we will use to do this in March 2021 as landlords work towards the achieving the current standard by December 2032. Our Chief Executive participated in the Zero Emission in Social Housing Taskforce (ZEST), which I understand will report shortly and make recommendations to the Scottish Government.
Homelessness is a priority for us and we are engaging with every local authority as they each deal with the impact of the pandemic on services. We are also working with the Scottish Human Rights Commission around briefing for landlords on human rights and with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and other representative bodies on developing equalities guidance for landlords.
You may be interested to consider our national report on social landlord performance against the Scottish Social Housing Charter, which we will publish alongside updates to our comparison tool and landlord reports towards the end of August 2021.
We are due to lay our annual report and accounts for 2020/21 before Parliament by the end of October 2021 and I hope thereafter we will have an opportunity to present this formally to Committee and attend to answer questions about our work. In the meantime we will keep the Clerks updated on our work and publications.
I look forward to meeting you and the rest of the Committee and we all wish you the very best with for this parliamentary term. Please feel free to contact me at any time.