Welcome and introductions
Kelda welcomed everyone to the meeting.
In attendance: Kelda McMichael (SHR), Stephen Lalley (SHR), Shona Gorman, John McKenzie, Margaret Dymond, Liz Richardson, Bruce Cuthbertson, Bill Campbell, Gordon Saunders
Observing: Helen Shaw (SHR), Colin Stewart (SHR board member), Helen Trouten Torres (SHR board member)
Apologies: Linda Lennie, John Duffy, June Anderson
Declaration of interests & minute of last meeting
There were no declarations made. The minute of the last meeting was accepted.
1. Recent SHR updates
Stephen presented headline findings from SHR’s National Report on the Scottish Social Housing Charter for 2021/22, which was published at the end of August. The group considered the findings and discussed the Regulator’s role in monitoring the validity of the statistics, particularly around tenant satisfaction. Upcoming guidance on carrying out tenant satisfaction surveys, the annual risk assessment and upcoming visits to landlords to discuss their Annual Assurance Statements was noted.
Stephen summarised the Scottish Government’s rent freeze announcement (made in September 2022), including that the accompanying legislation stipulates that an extension of this intervention needs to have been confirmed by the middle of January 2023. This announcement was acknowledged in SHR’s thematic review of rent increases by social landlords, which Stephen summarised. He also highlighted a recent letter sent by SHR to all social landlords which included advising landlords to continue with their rent setting exercise as normal this year.
Stephen invited the group to share their thoughts on the announcement and asked them to share their experiences of their own landlord’s tenant consultation process for this year’s rent setting exercise. The group discussed:
- Low turnout of some recent tenant consultation events in different parts of Scotland, with anecdotal reports of this being because some groups of tenants believe that the Scottish Government’s announcement in September meant that rents are frozen for 2023/24
- The difficult situation landlords face trying to consult with their tenants given this misunderstanding. The group also noted the challenges facing landlords in trying to balance meeting their statutory duties and managing their assets effectively whilst also keeping rents affordable for tenants
- SHR’s involvement in a working group which will help to inform the Scottish Government about the impact of a potential extension of the rent freeze/cap into 2023/24
- Concerns among some tenants about the long-term consequences of the freeze/cap being extended, particularly the impact on landlords being able to invest in energy efficiency measures which could reduce tenants’ energy bills
- How SHR monitors tenant and resident safety, noting that the survey issued to all landlords last year as part of the annual risk assessment will be repeated this year.
2. Regular SHR updates
Kelda summarised the latest engagement plan updates. This included Port of Leith Housing Association, which has now formally changed its name to Harbour Homes; Link Group which now has a new registered subsidiary called Link Housing Association; and Reidvale Housing Association which is now seeking a transfer of engagements to another social landlord. Kelda also highlighted the de-registrations of Faifley Housing Association and Aberdeen Soroptimist Housing Society, which have transferred to Caledonia Housing Association and Osprey Housing Managment, respectively.
Kelda summarised the items which the SHR board discussed at its August and October meetings.
In terms of recent publications, Kelda told the group about SHR’s annual report and accounts for 2021/22 and the 2021/22 National Panel of Tenants and Service Users report. She also highlighted upcoming publications, including guidance for social landlords on asset management and on human rights, the risks which SHR will be focusing on in its upcoming annual risk assessment, and landlords’ Annual Assurance Statements which must be submitted to SHR by the end of October.
Kelda also mentioned recent events, including Michael Cameron’s speech at the TIS Conference. SHR staff and board members will also be speaking at upcoming events like the SHN Annual Gathering, Scottish Rural and Islands Housing Conference and SFHA Finance Conference.
3. Region updates
In advance of the meeting, the liaison group members had submitted a list of questions for SHR to consider and provide responses to during the meeting. The questions covered a range of topics, and this generated discussion amongst the group. The main talking points were:
- The role of the newly appointed Tenant Advisors, noting that they have completed their first exercise recently. The group would find it useful to hear about other work the Tenant Advisors carry out during their tenure
- The recent survey carried out by SHR on its communications strategy, which the regional networks – along with other stakeholders - were invited to participate in. The survey closed at the end of September.
- The importance of tenant participation, with some group members expressing concern about the sustainability of the regional networks given the dwindling membership. The support of the Scottish Government tenant participation team was acknowledged as being critical to the success of the RTOs, as was the role of individual landlords to raise awareness of tenant participation opportunities
- There was praise for those landlords who invest in and prioritise tenant participation, with some good practice examples of how landlords do raise awareness of engagement opportunities shared. The group would welcome a thematic review on tenant participation.
- The impact of the rising cost of living on tenants and communities. This included further discussion on rent levels and how cost increases for landlords and the potentially reduced ability to make rent increases will impact the investment that can be made in social housing.
- The Regional Networks’ Housing and Disability Focus Group, which had its first meeting recently, and will soon be finalising its specific remit.
Members then shared region-specific updates.
Updates from region 1 included Aberdeen City Council being shortlisted for Housing Team of the Year at the 2022 CIH Scotland Housing Awards; a recent new build development being completed by Castlehill Housing Association and a restructuring of Highland Council’s housing and property teams.
Region 2 representatives met the previous day, with discussions focused on how they will work. Region 2’s secretary, who is also the regional network’s representative on the Scottish Government’s Affordability Focus Group, has recently stood down and so region 2 is liaising with the Scottish Government’s tenant participation team to try and fill both posts.
Renfrewshire Council’s Tenant Participation Strategy, which the tenants were involved in developing, is being brought forward for approval this week at the council’s housing committee. East Ayrshire Council’s new allocations policy is now available online and is a joint policy as per the Common Housing Register. Partners include: Atrium Homes, Cunninghame, Riverside Scotland and Shire Housing Associations. This system has been nominated for a CIH Award.
Link Group’s tenant scrutiny panel has also been nominated for a CIH Award. Region 4 do not have representatives from the Glasgow and Stirling areas and so are hoping to increase membership moving forward.
4. Meeting dates for 2023
Proposed meeting dates for 2023 were shared with the group and will be circulated via email after the meeting to confirm availability. The group wished to invite George Walker (SHR board chair) and Michael Cameron (SHR Chief Executive) to a meeting during 2023. Kelda agreed to arrange this.
Date of next meeting
31 January 2023 (tbc)