This election will impact on Scottish housing

AM March 15
Annie Mauger, Executive Director, Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, @CIHScotland

With control of housing policy devolved to Holyrood, voters with a priority interest in Scotland’s future housing landscape could be forgiven for thinking this Thursday’s general election is of limited relevance to them. Key policies such as affordable housing targets, the integration of health and social care, planning and land reform are all areas where the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and, in some cases, Scotland’s 32 local authorities take the lead.

So why should Scottish housing professionals and others with a keen interest in housing take the time to scrutinise general election manifestos and interrogate the policies of their local general election candidates before voting this week?

In fact, there are many areas of policy with a major impact on housing that remain reserved to Westminster. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of welfare policy. Despite recent reforms that have seen some aspects of welfare policy devolved to Holyrood, there are still significant aspects of welfare where Westminster has the final say. Furthermore, we are still currently in a state of transition as responsibility for certain aspects of welfare policy is transferred to the Scottish Parliament. This means, for instance, that far-reaching UK Government reforms to welfare policy such as the roll-out of Universal Credit are having – and will continue to have – a direct effect on the availability, accessibility and affordability of housing in Scotland.

In particular, CIH Scotland has recently highlighted the negative social impact and spiralling costs of implementing Universal Credit in Scotland. CIH Scotland members have reported to us a substantial increase in rent arrears as a result of delayed payments. Social landlords have been forced to commit substantial internal resources to support tenants with their claims while demand for financial support from alternative sources such as the Scottish Welfare Fund and referrals to food banks are also on the rise. We have also seen an increasing reluctance by private landlords to let property to Universal Credit claimants. These multiple problems of implementation are something the next UK Government – whatever its political colour – will have to confront and resolve.

More recent research has also highlighted the negative impact of proposals by the UK Government to cap Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit for social housing tenants at LHA rates. This means that single people under 35 years of age will see their allowance capped at the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) with the result that around 21,000 younger social tenants in Scotland could collectively face a rent affordability gap of up to £22.6 million per year.

These are just two examples of policy areas where the actions of a future UK Government will have a real and direct impact on the Scottish housing sector. Anyone interested in Scotland’s future housing landscape should therefore consider carefully the implications for Scottish housing of this Thursday’s general election. Having done so, I hope that most will realise just how important it is to go out and vote.

Annie Mauger is Executive Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland.

This article first appeared in Inside Housing.

Let’s empower our learning disabled to lead on change

People with additional needs are helping to make their services and communities better says James Fletcher, director of the Association for Real Change Scotland (ARC)

People with additional needs are helping to make their services and communities better says James Fletcher, director of the Association for Real Change Scotland (ARC)

This week is learning disability awareness week with the theme ‘looking back, thinking forward.’ To mark this, members of the National Involvement Network, a group of over 80 people with learning disabilities or support needs, have decided to hold a unique event in Glasgow called “Hear our voice; 10 years of leading change in our services and communities.’

The event will planned and delivered entirely by people with additional needs with support from ARC Scotland and will be attended by over 180 people who can help shape the future of social care in Scotland.

It will celebrate the remarkable achievements of the members of the National Involvement Network in becoming leaders of change, and highlight their ground-breaking publication the Charter for Involvement.

The Charter for Involvement sets out in their own words how they want to be involved in decisions made about their services and communities.  It does this in a practical and straightforward way that can be understood by everybody.

It avoids the jargon and over-complication that is often introduced by professionals and is a barrier to meaningful involvement and co-production.

Their work has become part of the DNA of Scotland’s social care sector and has already helped to improve the lives of hundreds of supported people across the country.  At this week’s event, a further three organisations will formally commit to putting the Charter into practice- bringing the total to over 50 organisations that are now doing this.

This is making a real difference to work practice and culture within social care organisations and health and social care partnerships in areas such as staff recruitment, training, policy-making and governance.

It is telling that over the past year, members of the National Involvement Network have chosen to focus their attention on speaking with people who have communication difficulties about their experiences of living in their communities.  They have developed a specialised ‘Talking Mats’ framework to do this, and some have undergone training to use it.

Through this work they have helped people to connect with their community resources, such as church and cinema and to express ways in which the support they receive can be improved.

For the members of the National Involvement Network, learning disability awareness week is an opportunity to celebrate their remarkable achievements over the past 10 years.

Lynnette Linton, Chair of the National Involvement Network said “We would like delegates attending the conference to learn what involvement means from the point of view of people who receive support. We hope they will be inspired and motivated to find new ways to hear and include the voices of people who use support services.”

The event is also an opportunity to look to the future and consider how supported people themselves can help social care organisations and the communities they work in to address and adapt to the very real challenges they face.

Learning form the experience of people who receive support (and those who need it but don’t get it) must surely be the foundation for informing the changes still to come within this sector. As Lynnette Linton put it, ‘In future involvement won’t be special, it will just be natural.’

Fortunately, there is a willingness amongst many people to share their experiences in and contribute to finding solutions to sometimes complex issues, such as budget cuts and managing risk.

This valuable resource has yet to be fully realised. To do this, people tell us they must first feel listened to and respected, and to clearly understand how their views will influence the decisions being made.

Meaningful involvement and co-production takes time to do properly, will not always give the answers that are hoped for and may challenge professional assumptions.  However the result is support and community services that are centred around the people that use them.

By this time next year the National Involvement Network aim to have 100 organisations signed up to the Charter for Involvement, and to extend their work to communities out-with the central belt.

 

New Scottish Social Housing Charter places important new emphasis on tenant scrutiny

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Marian Reid Deputy Director of CIH Scotland

A new revised Scottish Social Housing Charter came into force on the 1st April this year. The Charter was first introduced five years ago as one of the provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, with the aim of improving the quality and value of services provided by social landlords in Scotland.

The revised Charter is the result of an extensive consultation process involving a range of stakeholders including social landlords, tenants and representative bodies.

Although the outcomes of the new Charter are largely the same as for its predecessor, there are some important changes in emphasis. For instance, there is an explicit recognition of the role of new technology such as web-based systems and mobile applications in improving communication between landlords and their tenants.

The most recent changes to the Charter also point to a growing recognition of the role of tenant scrutiny as a means of improving performance, achieving efficiencies and delivering improved outcomes in social landlords’ housing activities. In relation to tenant involvement, one particularly notable inclusion is a direct reference to supporting tenants to scrutinise landlord services. Coupled to this, social landlords are now expected to actively involve tenants and other customers in reviewing how they deliver value for money.

As part of CIH Scotland’s Housing Festival, Housing Minister Kevin Stewart recently launched a practice guide and training toolkit to help landlords and tenants achieve more effective scrutiny.

Over the next five years, we can expect to see even more active engagement in tenant scrutiny of landlord services. The scrutiny resources combined with the revised Charter offer landlords the opportunity to fine tune their services to be as responsive as they possibly can be to the needs of tenants.

Marian Reid is Deputy Director of CIH Scotland.

 To download the Scottish Government funded scrutiny practice guide and training toolkit go to http://www.cih.org/scotland-tenant-scrutiny-programme

The Scottish Government is funding a series of free information events aimed at tenants and landlords and delivered by TPAS Scotland and Tenants Information Service (TIS), looking at the changes that have been made to the Charter.

For details go to http://tis.org.uk/ or http://www.tpasscotland.org.uk/

 

 

In the current economic climate private sponsorship of arts and heritage has never been so important

David Watt - Arts & Business Scotland
David Watt, Chief Executive, Arts & Business Scotland

On the 3rd April 2017, the new Culture & Business Fund Scotland (CBFS) was launched by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop. Providing critical pound for pound match funding of private sector sponsorship of arts and heritage activities, the CBFS will help to bring to life creative projects of all sizes, throughout Scotland.

In the current economic climate, rising costs and shrinking budgets are putting pressure on arts and heritage organisations’ finances, making private sector sponsorship more important than ever.

Evolving from Arts & Business Scotland’s renowned New Arts Sponsorship Grant (NASG), which recently celebrated a decade of success, investing over £7.5 million across more than 500 individual arts and heritage projects, the CBFS is bolstered with a new dedicated heritage strand and will also allow projects to continue to receive funding during their second and third years.

2017 is also the official year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and widening the scope of the new fund to include support for Scotland’s crucially important heritage sector is extremely timely. Ranging from archaeology to historic buildings and taking in intangible heritage, green spaces, libraries and museums, our hope is that the new heritage strand will attract lots of exciting new applications.

We are also particularly keen to highlight the opportunity the new fund offers for projects to apply for second and third year funding, a key facet that has been particularly welcomed by businesses and cultural organisations that have participated in the New Arts Sponsorship programme in previous years. This innovation should hopefully encourage applicants to be even more ambitious with their project proposals and will enable relationships between culture and business to strengthen and grow over a longer period of time.

Over the past decade, NASG helped a wide variety of arts and heritage projects of all sizes located across the length and breadth of Scotland get off the ground, ranging from the creation of a unique sculpture celebrating the role of herring gutters in the Shetland fishing industry to the marketing and promotion of a new local arts festival in Galashiels – and from a specially commissioned piece of event theatre telling the story of Aberdeen and engaging the local community across the city to an interactive theatre production exploring issues around the impact of climate change, launched on the Hebridean island of Eigg before touring the Highlands and Islands and beyond. With a new wider scope, I am confident that the new fund will help to realise a similarly eclectic mix of arts and heritage projects in the years ahead.

Eligible projects can receive grant funding between £1,000 and £40,000, matched by business sponsorship to the same value. In the fund’s inaugural year, £300,000 will be provided by the Scottish Government, via Creative Scotland, while Historic Environment Scotland will make an initial contribution of £36,000 towards developing and raising awareness of the fund within the heritage sector.

Programmes such as this have the important benefit of encouraging private investors to give generously to the cultural sector with the reassurance that the value of their investment will be matched by government support. As well as doubling the financial stimulus to qualifying cultural projects, allowing larger and more complex projects to get off the ground, this approach also amplifies the positive impact on business from being associated with these projects. I have spoken to many organisations that have enjoyed fruitful partnerships with the cultural sector as a result of our previous NASG programme. Common to all are the huge benefits they have seen to their own business as a result of getting involved.

A public opinion poll commissioned by Arts & Business Scotland to coincide with the launch of the new fund demonstrates the extent of these benefits to business. A majority of Scots say they would be more likely to buy goods and services from businesses that support arts and heritage projects in their local area. 69% agree it is important for businesses to support such projects in their local community while more than three in four Scots agree that supporting local cultural and heritage projects reflects well on businesses.

As many participating businesses will testify, supporting cultural projects isn’t just an act of selfless philanthropy. There are lots of good, hard-headed business reasons for doing it. With its new wider scope and longer term focus, I look forward to seeing the Culture & Business Fund Scotland deliver many more successful partnerships between business, heritage and the arts over the next year and beyond.

We can build as many homes as we want, but Private Rented Sector tax changes could crush the home owning dream for millennials

 

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Amanda Wiewiorka, Managing Director, Wardhaugh Property 

With the release last week (7th February) of the UK Government’s long awaited housing white paper, Scotland’s own problems in the area were propelled into the limelight. The simple fact is, not enough houses are being built to meet increasing and changing demand, making homeownership an unaffordable dream for many millennials.

‘Modular homes’ or ‘off-site’ construction could offer part of a solution to this crisis. The process of constructing ‘modules’ complete with everything from electrics to plumbing at a factory away from the development site has already been identified by the Scottish Government as a way of addressing the housing shortage.

The concept is widely used around the world to provide strong, energy efficient homes.  Here in Angus, the first six houses of a new development on the site of the old Inverpark Hotel in Arbroath were built in complete units at a factory in Dunfermline before being delivered to the site last week.

It was Theresa May’s proclamation that the UK would take a different stance to homeownership, supporting long term renting as a viable alternative, which struck me. If she does indeed wish to move towards equal perceptions in Britain between renting and homeownership, then she must echo that sentiment in her policies.

Even if we increase the number of ‘modular’ homes and increase the levels of traditional house building to keep up with demand, the UK Government’s disastrous ‘tenant tax’, which comes into effect in April this year could undermine the entire effort.

The Government has decided that landlords, unlike every other business, will be taxed on their income rather than their profits.  This tax raid will only succeed in driving up rent levels in order for landlords to meet their costs.

With saving for a deposit noted as one of the biggest hurdles to homeownership, how will tenants who rent a property ever be able to save up enough money when they are forced to pay sky-high rents by a Government policy that is, in reality, detrimental to the very people the recent white paper aims to help.

Similarly, if the government truly wishes to achieve parity of perception between renting and buying a house, making it a much clearer choice for people rather than something they have no choice on, they will require the investment of professional landlords and letting agents.  Yet, the very tax changes being implemented will drive those same people out of the market and rob the country of that investment.

The UK Government has to make up its mind, is it trying to drive landlords out to increase the supply of housing available to buy, or does it need landlords to increase the supply of quality properties available to rent to achieve balance?

So whilst innovations such as modular housing can help supply at the edges, both the UK and Scottish governments must begin to make consistent policy decisions if we are to seriously tackle the country’s housing problems.

Landlords and others must be part of benefits solution

 

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John Blackwood, Chief Executive, Scottish Association of Landlords @Scotlandlord

When it comes to improving social conditions for those on the lowest income in society, those in the private sector are often ignored when it comes to finding practical, effective solutions.  This is no more true than when it comes to ensuring there is a proper supply of high-quality affordable housing.

 

Traditionally, finding housing for low income individuals and families, such as those on benefits, was considered to be the role of government, either nationally or locally.  However, with budgets reduced and the long-term challenges of councils investing in new housing stock, they are unlikely to be able to meet this challenge alone.

Yet the private rented sector has a large number of well-maintained, quality properties available at rates which would be affordable for those on benefits.  The challenge in releasing these properties for rent has been an understandable reluctance by landlords to rent to those on benefits because of the delay in receiving rent each month.  Most landlords are small businesses working on tight margins and who rely on steady cashflow.  As a result, they are naturally cautious about the delays that can be caused in these circumstances despite many wishing to do so.

SAL has been campaigning for a number of years to find a way to overcome this barrier and release this stock for rent by low income households.  We were therefore delighted by the announcement at the start of the year that the Scottish Government will use its new powers to increase the frequency of Universal Credit payments and give recipients the choice of having the housing cost element of their benefits paid direct to the landlords, as already happens in the social rented sector.

This move will encourage more landlords to rent to those on benefits, increasing the supply of available housing across Scotland.  As well as having clear benefits for tenants, this will reduce the financial burden on local authorities who have to provide emergency accommodation at very high cost.

This represents a win/win/win situation for tenants, government and landlords.  We hope that in future, landlords can do more to help the most vulnerable in our society by working with different partners to deliver homes for those in need.

A version of this blog first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on February 13th 2017.

Solving the housing crisis must acknowledge broader changing demands and demographics

 

John - Headshot - October 2015
John Blackwood, Chief Executive, Scottish Association of Landlords @scotlandlord

A recently published report found that home ownership has dropped from 69% in Scotland at its 2004 peak to 63% now.

The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL) would like to see a long-term strategic plan that allows people to choose the right housing solution for their circumstances, recognising those requirements are likely to change over time.

For example, although more people now rent than buy in city centres, often this is through choice.  Homes in the centres of cities are often large, multi-bedroom properties, which would always have required a large deposit and are out of the reach of most young people.  However, small groups of young professionals may seek to rent this kind of property as they prioritise a desire to live in fashionable city-centre areas and the supply should exist to allow them to do this if they choose.

However, an even larger number of people, recognising the growing flux in the job market choose to prioritise saving money for a time when they might be out of work, rather than focussing on a deposit to buy a house.  This would seem like a very sensible long-term plan and considerably more responsible than the situation we saw a decade ago with people over-stretching themselves simply to “get on the property ladder”.  These people were the ones hit hardest by the credit crunch and property crash of 2008 which is still affecting supply in city centres.

None of this is to say that there are not challenges which landlords must address.  We must work with the third sector and government to educate landlords about the law and encourage stronger enforcement of regulations to drive criminal players out of the market.  Equally, we must work with tenants to ensure they are aware of their own responsibilities under their lease.  Achieving this balance will help defuse tensions which can often arise through misunderstanding between tenants and landlords.

By working together and acknowledging the changing nature of the demand in the housing market it is possible to achieve the right balance that will end the housing crisis in Scotland in the future.