1. Welcome and introductions
Kelda welcomed all and sent apologies from those who couldn’t attend.
In attendance: Kelda McMichael (SHR), Stephen Lalley (SHR), John Jellema (SHR, items 1-4 only), Bruce Cuthbertson, Leonora Montgomery, Tom O’Brien, Shona Gorman, John McKenzie
Observing: Nicola McKeand (SHR)
Apologies: Bill Chapman, Helen Westwater, June Anderson
2. Declaration of interests & minutes of last meeting
No declarations were made. The group highlighted an inaccurate account of attendance by the RTO group at a meeting with Audit Scotland. Bruce agreed to send a list of corrections required to SHR so that the changes can be made before the minute is published. It was agreed that the remainder of the minute was an accurate reflection of discussions.
3. Annual Assurance Statements
Kelda introduced John Jellema, SHR Regulation Manager to update the RTO group on the Annual Assurance Statement submissions and visits.
SHR published statutory guidance for landlords on the statements, and reminded landlords in advance of the deadline about the requirement to submit a statement. SHR didn’t prescribe what a statement should look like, other than that it should confirm their compliance with the Regulatory Framework and relevant legislation.
By the deadline, SHR received assurance statements from 156 RSLs and 25 local authorities. These were published on the website, alongside the list of landlords who did not submit a statement on time. Landlords should make their statement available to tenants and other service users. SHR are still awaiting one submission.
SHR will use the statements to help us come to our overall regulatory view of an organisation. The statement will be an important part of the information SHR will consider when assessing risk and deciding how it should engage with an organisation.
SHR have started to carry out a programme of visits to a selection of landlords to discuss the statements. SHR will visit ten landlords in total. The landlords were selected to achieve a geographical mix, a range of sizes and types of landlords, and of different types of Assurance Statement.
The visits have focused on the landlord’s approach to producing their Annual Assurance Statement, and has involved discussions with both staff and governing body or Committee chairs. SHR will use the outcomes from the visits to share positive practice and lessons learned in a report, which will be published in March 2020.
Group members discussed their own involvement with their landlord’s Annual Assurance Statement submission, and compared this to the level of involvement they have with their landlord’s ARC return. John highlighted that the ARC return is very tenant-facing, and is primarily looking at performance and how this has changed over time. There are elements of the Annual Assurance Statement, however, which reflect what’s happening in the background within a landlord and so may not be as visible to a tenant.
4. Update on statutory action
Kelda gave an update on the three RSL cases where statutory intervention is ongoing (Thistle, Ruchazie and Fairfield), and where statutory intervention has recently ended (Wishaw & District and Arklet).
Kelda also gave an update on Dumfries & Galloway Housing Partnership joining the Wheatley Group in December 2019, following a ballot of DGHP’s tenants. Whilst this was not a statutory intervention case, SHR have updated Wheatley’s engagement plan and will monitor the integration of DGHP into the group.
Bruce asked why SHR appoints certain people to governing bodies in statutory cases. Kelda explained that this will depend on what skills are required for that individual case. If, for example, there are widespread financial issues which have led to statutory appointees being required, SHR will look to appoint a governing body member with financial expertise. Kelda explained that it can also be about ensuring that there is a sufficient number of governing body members in place to meet the regulatory requirements.
Bruce also asked whether SHR find that there needs to be a training plan put in place to ensure that the appointees can be removed from the governing body. Kelda explained that SHR do not want appointees to remain on a governing body for longer than required. In these circumstances, it’s important for the landlord and governing body to consider what skills are required, and to undertake the appropriate training, as well as recruit new members if necessary. An RSL must ensure that governing body members have the sufficient skills and knowledge before appointees can be removed by SHR.
5. SHR planner update (future publications and events)
Kelda informed the group of the following recent events:
- Michael Cameron and George Walker presented SHR’s annual report to the Local Government and Communities Committee, and the transcript and video is available via Parliament TV
- George Walker spoke at the RTO Network Event
- Michael Cameron spoke at the TIS conference
- Ian Brennan spoke at the GWSF Annual conference
- George Walker and Helen Trouten Torress spoke at the TPAS conference
- Ewan Fraser spoke at SHARE governance event
- Helen Trouten Torres provided a profile article for Housing 24 magazine
Kelda also outlined the upcoming events:
- George Walker will be speaking at the SFHA Chairs’ conference on 31 January 2020
- Michael Cameron will be speaking at the CIH Housing Festival, which takes place on 3 & 4 March 2020
- We will publish the Annual Assurance Statement lessons learned report in March 2020
We will publish a regulatory status for every RSL (within their engagement plan) by 31 March 2020
6. Glasgow City Council inquiry
Kelda outlined the recently announced inquiry into Glasgow City Council’s service for people who are homeless.
We published a report on the Council in March 2018 which highlighted a range of serious weaknesses in the Council’s performance in delivering services to people who are homeless.
Since then, we have been monitoring the Council’s performance, and it is reporting that it continues to fail to meet its duties to provide temporary and emergency accommodation to a significant number of people who approach it for help. It also reported that people who are homeless are still waiting significant times for a permanent home.
We will visit the Council to directly test its performance, with a particular focus on how the Council discharges its duty to provide people with emergency and temporary accommodation. The Council has three locally based casework teams, so we will visit each team to speak to staff and managers, take a sample of cases to review, and shadow interviews with service users.
We are aiming to publish a report into our findings in late Spring.
Kelda also highlighted our recent report into Dumfries & Galloway Council’s homeless service. Published in early December, the report notes that the Council has significantly improved the service and is working more effectively with its Registered Social Landlord partners. Together they have significantly increased the number of lets to people who are homeless and reduced the time people spend in temporary accommodation waiting for a home.
We have made a number of recommendations in the report. This includes ensuring that it complies with its statutory duties and the Code of Guidance on Homelessness. We have also made recommendations around its out of hours service, access to the service, partnership working and quality assurance.
7. Rent setting
The RTO had asked to discuss rent setting and standardising rents.
Kelda reiterated some of the points raised by Ian Brennan during his speech to the SFHA Finance Conference, including the findings from the National Panel of Tenants & Service Users report and the average weekly rent charge and rent increase from the sector. Kelda explained that SHR do not regulate the sector, but rather individual landlords, and so don’t have any powers to standardise rents.
Bruce shared the discussions which had taken place at the regional networks, where the members had highlighted the difficulty for landlords to keep rents affordable as well as maintain their stock to the relevant standards (e.g. SHQS). Kelda explained that SHR would expect landlords to ensure that they are doing everything possible to be efficient and drive costs from their business before passing costs on to tenants. Tom highlighted the importance of rental income for landlords to be able to cover their costs.
There was discussion among the group about landlords working together to appoint a contractor for their capital programmes, which could perhaps save costs. Kelda highlighted such partnerships are in place in some areas.
Kelda explained that affordability and value for money is one of the risks that SHR will focus on as part of our annual risk assessment. The risk assessment is the main way SHR carry out our statutory function to monitor, assess, report and intervene (as appropriate) in relation to each social landlord’s performance of housing activities as well as financial well-being and standards of governance for each RSL. Copies of the report published in December summarising the risks we will focus on were circulated to the group.
8. ‘How we regulate: a guide for tenants and service users’ feedback
Kelda discussed the recently published ‘How we regulate: A guide for tenants and service users’. This guide lets people know more about who SHR are and what we do, what tenants can expect from their landlord, how they can find out about their landlord’s performance, and how to raise a concern.
SHR produced two short videos to accompany this, and the group viewed these at the meeting. These videos are available on the SHR website.
SHR invited feedback from the group on the guide. The main suggestion from the group was for a glossary to be included, to help readers understand some of the terms used throughout. It was also suggested that the guide stipulates Audit Scotland’s role in overseeing local authorities’ financial affairs.
Bruce said that he will circulate the guide to the other Chairs and Secretaries within the RTO network at their meeting on 25 February 2020, and may provide further feedback to SHR thereafter.
9. Review of the ‘How we involve tenants and service users in our work’ strategy
Kelda explained that SHR’s strategy which sets out how we involve tenants and services users in our work was due to be reviewed, and we wanted to gather feedback from the RTO group on this.
The current strategy, notes that SHR will:
- meet regularly with the RTO Liaison group,
- engage with the Regional Networks and other tenant representatives;
- involve tenants and service users when we consult on new regulatory proposals that impact on people who use landlords’ services;
- involve tenant advisors in our work to make sure that we stay focused on the issues that matter most to tenants, and
- gather feedback from the National Panel of Tenants and Service Users.
Kelda said that the objectives and mechanisms within the strategy were likely to remain largely the same for the updated version and asked for feedback on this.
The group agreed that the mechanisms noted in the current strategy should remain in place as they seem to all be working well, and there was discussion from the group about them cascading feedback from the SHR out to the wider network more regularly. Bruce reminded the group of this being requested by George Walker, Chair of SHR’s board, at the last RTO Liaison Group meeting to do so.
Bruce asked for more updates on the National Panel’s work to be brought to the RTO Liaison Group meetings.
10. Complaints and media interest
The group had asked for clarification on how complaints to the SHR are handled.
Kelda explained that it depended on the nature and type of the complaint.
With regard to complaints about landlords, Kelda highlighted that individual complaints from tenants and service users should be raised with the landlord through their complaints process, before proceeding to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if they remain dissatisfied. But she also noted there were other possible channels where serious issues could be brought to the attention of SHR, including Significant Performance Failures and whistleblowing.
She also noted that where the issue related to SHR, complaints can be made to the SHR and then to the SPSO in the same way as was noted for landlords. In addition, a landlord can ask for a review of or an appeal against a regulatory decision.
The group asked about the recent media interest surrounding SHR. Kelda explained that following a story being published in the Scottish Housing News suggesting incidences of bullying by SHR, George Walker responded. Kelda shared George’s response with the group, reiterating that there is a formal complaints process in place within SHR. Bruce asked about the subsequent articles in the media questioning decision making on statutory intervention. Kelda explained that decisions made are in line with our scheme of delegation which – along with a number of internal procedure notes – has now been published on our website. She noted SHR aim to be as open and transparent as possible regarding statutory action.
The group asked about the thematic inquiries which are planned for 2020/21. Kelda explained that this will be decided after April 2020. The group said that they would like to see a thematic focusing on tenant participation.
Bruce asked if there has been any follow up work to the gypsy/travellers thematic as it was a topic on the national agenda. Kelda explained that we have been liaising with the local authorities and RSLs who own sites about their compliance with minimum site and fire safety standards. There has also been the recent National Panel of Tenants and Service Users report on gypsy/travellers.
12. Recent publications
Kelda highlighted some of the recent publications, including the statutory manager list, Equalities Statement and loan portfolio summary. These are all available on our website.
13. RTO networks update
- One of the Liaison Group representatives recently stood down, and at the next meeting there will be a decision made about the replacement
- Scottish Government had arranged for region 1 to join region 2 to discuss the Housing to 2040 consultation, which will take place on 12/2/20 and be facilitated by TPAS
- Region 2 has a temporary Chair and Secretary, however the AGM will hopefully be taking place soon to appoint to these roles on a permanent basis.
- There has been a change in Liaison Group personnel so there has been a request to the Scottish Government to ensure that it holds accurate information on who the 4 representatives are for each region and who is on standby
- Like the other regions, region 3 will also be contributing to the Housing to 2040 consultation and so dates are being finalised for this.
- The date that has been proposed is the same date as region 3’s actual meeting so it is subject to change if members would rather separate them out.
- Bruce and John will also be attending a national Housing to 2040 event in Glasgow.
- Region 4 will be contributing to the Housing to 2040 consultation on 6 February 2020.
- Representatives from region 4 will also attend the national events taking place in Crieff and Glasgow.
- Region 4’s vice chair has recently stepped down.
There was discussion amongst members about attendance at the Liaison Group meetings. Bruce said that he will speak with all Regional Networks to encourage members to attend the pre-meetings which determine who can attend the Liaison Group meeting. Bruce said that he is looking to set up a mailing list with all of the up to date contact details for members.
14. Any other business
Meeting dates for the rest of 2020 were agreed:
- Thursday 30 April 2020
- Thursday 30 July 2020
- Thursday 19 November 2020