About our annual risk assesment
Each year we carry out a risk assessment to enable us to plan our engagement with social landlords. We publish information on our engagement with each social landlord in our engagement plans, and we publish a Regulatory Status for all RSLs. The Regulatory Status shows whether an RSL complies with the Regulatory Standards of Governance and Financial Management (the Regulatory Standards) and regulatory requirements, is working towards compliance or where we are taking statutory action. We also highlight where a Regulatory Status is under review.
The engagement plan for each landlord is available on our Landlord Directory. You can find out more about our risk assessment process, how we regulate and regulatory status’ in our Regulatory Framework.
This year’s risk assessment has again taken place against a backdrop of unprecedented and evolving challenges for landlords, tenants, service users and people who are threatened with, or experiencing homelessness.
The pandemic continues to pose a number of risks and issues for landlords and as a result there continues to be an unprecedented level of uncertainty in landlords’ operating context. And as landlords are continuing to refocus on emerging from the pandemic, there are a range of other challenges that they also need to consider, including:
- the growing problems in supply chains for labour and materials, that are driving up costs;
- the cost of living crisis and in particular the unprecedented rise in energy costs which means the most challenging economic context for a very long time, with many tenants and their families facing increasing financial hardship;
- delivering on the Climate Crisis and decarbonisation agenda;
- potential increases in pension deficits and the resulting increase in the contributions that landlords have to fund; and
- most recently the unsettling unfolding events in Ukraine and the economic consequences of this in addition to a European humanitarian crisis unparalleled in modern times.
Given the degree of volatility and uncertainty it is therefore more important than ever that social landlords are alive to all of the risks they may face and that they have adequate risk management and mitigation measures in place to ensure that tenants and other service users’ interests are protected. Landlords need to help ensure their organisational resilience, and plan for changes so they can continue to be alert and ready to respond to any further changes in the economic and operating environment. In order for emerging financial risks to be managed, RSLs should closely monitor forecasts, and update them where necessary.
This year we have moved towards a more comprehensive annual risk assessment, similar to our approach before the pandemic. We set out our approach and the risks we would focus on in our annual assessment in ‘The risks we will focus on’ (November 2021).
We have understood and acknowledged where a landlord has been unable to fully comply with regulatory requirements, in whole or in part, as a consequence of the pandemic. We have taken account of this in our assessment of each landlord’s performance and risk to judge our level of engagement with each landlord.
The remainder of this report provides a summary of the key outcomes from this year’s annual risk assessment.
We include every social landlord in the risk assessment: 32 local authority landlords and 142 Registered Social Landlords (RSLs).
For both local authorities and RSLs, we monitor, assess, report and intervene (as appropriate) on their performance in delivering housing activities. This means how they deliver services to:
- people who are homeless and people at risk of homelessness;
- Gypsy/Travellers who use official sites provided by these landlords; and
- factored owners.
For RSLs, we also monitor, assess, report and intervene (as appropriate) on their governance and financial wellbeing. We do not have this role with local authorities. Further information about our role can be found in our Regulatory Framework.
The information we use
We use a range of information to inform our risk assessment.
All landlords must submit an Annual Assurance Statement (AAS) to confirm to their tenants and to us that they are meeting regulatory requirements. For RSLs, this includes meeting the Regulatory Standards of Governance and Financial Management (the Regulatory Standards). The pandemic, and the public health response, has impacted on social landlords’ ability to deliver a full range of services for tenants and service users. We asked landlords to highlight in their 2021 Annual Assurance Statement (AAS) any non-compliance with regulatory requirements that was directly due to the impact of the pandemic and to distinguish this from non-compliance that is for other reasons.
All landlords must also submit to us an annual return on the Scottish Social Housing Charter (an ARC) to report on their performance in achieving or progressing towards achieving the Charter standards and outcomes.
In January this year we also asked all landlords to complete a short tenant and resident health and safety survey. This was to give us more information about how landlords gain assurance that they comply with all of their legal duties and responsibilities in relation to the health and safety of people who use landlords’ services.
Appendix 1 includes more information about what landlords told us.
For all landlords we also consider information from past or current engagements, complaints, significant performance failures and whistleblowing. We also ask all landlords to tell us about any tenant and resident safety matter which has been reported or is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive or reports from regulatory or statutory authorities or insurance providers, relating to safety concerns.
To help us monitor, assess, report and intervene (as appropriate) on RSLs’ governance and financial wellbeing, we consider information on Notifiable Events, a range of financial information including RSLs’ Audited Financial Statements (AFS), financial forecasts and loan portfolio details, and information from auditors.
For local authorities we also use the Scottish Government’s official statistics on homelessness and information from the local authority Shared Risk Assessment (SRA) process.
Our engagement with RSLs
How we decide on our engagement with RSLs
We use the range of information set out above to form a view on each RSL’s compliance with regulatory requirements and the Regulatory Standards. Where we judge that we need further information and assurance from an RSL, we will engage with it and publish details of this in the RSL’s engagement plan.
We also publish a Regulatory Status for all RSLs. The regulatory status provides a single view of the RSL’s governance, financial well-being and performance. It shows whether an RSL complies with the Regulatory Standards and regulatory requirements, is working towards compliance or where we are taking statutory action. We also highlight where a Regulatory Status is under review.
- 136 RSLs are compliant with Regulatory Standards and regulatory requirements (with four under review); and
- six RSLs do not meet the Regulatory Standards and regulatory requirements and are working towards compliance.
Comparison with last year:
Working towards compliance
We also removed eight RSLs from the Register of Social landlords (the Register) during the year, following transfers to other RSLs: Barony Housing Association, Bellsmyre Housing Association, Fairfield Housing Association, Hunters Hall Housing Co-operative, Kendoon Housing Association, Osprey Housing Moray, Thistle Housing Association and Weslo Housing Management. Aberdeen Soroptimist Housing transferred to Osprey Housing and will seek deregistration.
Pentland Housing Association is scheduled to transfer to Cairn Housing Association on 1 April 2022 and Faifley Housing Association will also transfer to Caledonia Housing Association on 1 April 2022. We have therefore not assigned a regulatory status to either Pentland or Faifley.
The main reasons for our engagement with RSLs
We’re engaging with:
- 10 RSLs about tenant and resident safety (two last year);
- 30 RSLs about governance (29 last year);
- 33 RSLs about finance (25 last year);
- ten RSLs about planned organisational changes (14 last year);
- two RSLs about service quality;*
- five RSLs about stock quality; *
- 28 RSLs about development* and
- 24 RSLs because they are systemically important (21 last year).
*We amended our risk assessment last year to focus on the immediate risks facing social landlords as a result of the pandemic and so we focussed on the impact of the pandemic, homelessness, rent affordability, tenant and resident safety and the financial health and governance of RSLs. As a result we do not have complete comparative data on all of the above areas.
On some occasions we are engaging with an RSL for more than one reason. Where we are engaging with an RSL about finance and will consider its business plan, we will also discuss with the RSL how it has satisfied itself that its rents are affordable for its tenants.
Systemically important RSLs
Some RSLs are of a size, have a level of turnover and debt, or a geographical location that means it could be more difficult for us to fulfil our statutory objective of protecting tenants and others if they were to experience financial difficulty. We consider these landlords systemically important and we are engaging with 24 RSLs on that basis in 2022/23. See which landlords are systemically important.
Our engagement with local authorities
How we decide on our engagement
We use the range of information set out above to form a view on each local authority’s compliance with regulatory requirements and performance of housing activities. Where we judge that we need further information and assurance from a local authority, we will engage with it and publish details of this in its engagement plan.
For 26 of the 32 local authorities we assess both their landlord and homelessness services. We assess the homelessness service only for the six local authorities who have transferred their homes to RSLs.
All our local authority scrutiny work is also directed through the Shared Risk Assessment (SRA) process with all the main scrutiny bodies for local government. We share information through a Local Area Network (LAN) – made up of officers from each of the scrutiny bodies – for each local authority.
Prior to COVID-19 local authorities were implementing their Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans to help them meet their legal duties towards people who are threatened with, or experiencing, homelessness. The pandemic impacted on landlords’ ability to let homes resulting in a significant increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation, pressure on the pool of temporary accommodation required, and demand for settled accommodation.
In carrying out our statutory functions we focus on those aspects of the homelessness system which are within our statutory remit, with a strong emphasis on local authorities’ discharge of their statutory duties. We seek assurance that people who are homeless, or who may become homeless, are able to access the statutory homelessness process, and that local authorities are complying with statutory duties. So through the annual risk assessment we monitor and assess the outcomes for people at the following key stages of the homelessness process:
- Access: whether local authorities are complying with their statutory duties to take homeless applications from people who may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, ensure services are well publicised and that people can access the service easily;
- Assessment: how long it takes to complete homelessness assessments and the decision types made;
- Temporary accommodation: whether local authorities are complying with duties to offer temporary or emergency accommodation to people when they need it, whether they provide quality temporary accommodation that meets people’s needs, and ensure people do not spend too long in temporary accommodation; and
- Outcomes: whether people are housed quickly enough, how many lets local authorities make to people who are homeless and whether people sustain those lets.
The main reasons for our engagement with local authorities
During 2021/22 we spoke to all local authorities to gather further information and assurance about their homelessness services and we will do this again in 2022/23.
We will also engage with 22 local authorities about specific aspects of their homelessness service. We will engage with:
- four local authorities about access;
- 15 about assessment;
- 10 about temporary accommodation; and
- 13 about outcomes.
On some occasions we are engaging with a local authority in more than one area. We are also engaging with:
- five local authorities about progress with ensuring that Gypsy/Travellers sites meet the Scottish Government Minimum Site Standards and/or requirements in relation to fire safety;
- two local authorities about tenant and resident safety; and
- four local authorities about service quality.
How we review our engagement
We will review the engagement we will have with all social landlords in our next annual risk assessment. We may review our engagement with a landlord during the year if circumstances change or new information becomes available. If we do, we may publish an updated engagement plan for that landlord, and if applicable an updated Regulatory Status for RSLs. We will set out the reasons for reviewing an RSL’s Regulatory Status in an updated engagement plan.
In carrying out our annual risk assessment, we identified the following significant risk areas.
Keeping rents affordable for tenants is a principal objective of all social landlords. In a context of rising inflation and significant pressures on household finances, this objective has never been more important. We will continue to seek appropriate assurances from all social landlords we engage with on how they have assured themselves that any rent changes keep rents at levels that tenants can afford.
Early in the pandemic, many in the social housing sector were concerned about a significant adverse impact on household incomes that would result in substantial numbers of tenants struggling to pay their rent. However, the combination of a number of government initiatives to support people financially, and a clear focus by landlords on working with tenants in financial difficulty, went some way to minimise the impact of the pandemic on the level of rent arrears. It is important however that this work continues and that landlords maintain a strong focus on ensuring that rents are affordable. We plan to undertake further analytical work in relation to rents increases and publish the outcomes during 2022.
Tenant and resident safety
In January 2022, as part of our annual risk assessment, we asked landlords to complete a short health and safety survey to give us some additional, more detailed information about how landlords gain this assurance. We already get some information about this from the Annual Assurance Statements that landlords submit to us each year.
The survey gave us valuable additional assurance, particularly around how landlords gain assurance that their systems, policies, procedures and working practices ensure compliance with health and safety requirements. Landlords provided particularly helpful comments around:
- embedding health and safety in organisational values;
- the different ways they ensure governing body oversight of health and safety issues;
- collaborative working on health and safety with other landlords;
- the importance of a rolling programme of full health and safety compliance reviews;
- taking a broad approach to health and safety; and
- the importance of regular assessment via internal audit.
Over three quarters of respondents also gave us additional comments on their approach which we found extremely helpful. As well as using the comments to shape our updated Asset Management Recommended Practice we will also seek to engage directly with some landlords about asset management and health and safety issues.
Fire/heat detector compliance
The deadline for the new standard was 22 February 2022. We will collect data on the position up to 31 March 2022 when landlords submit their ARC by the end of May 2022 and we will report on this as part of our National Report on the Charter in August 2022.
Ensuring that an RSL’s governance is as robust as it can be will be critical in managing the challenges each RSL faces.
In this year’s risk assessment we have therefore continued with a focus on governance and have looked at some additional evidence as part of this assessment. So for example we have reviewed the governing body minutes of all RSLs for three recent meetings. It is a regulatory requirement for RSLs to make their minutes publicly available, including online, and to be open and accountable to tenants and other stakeholders.
While we have previously considered governing body minutes as a source of governance intelligence for some RSLs, this is the first time that we have done this for all RSLs. This review has given us valuable information about governance and the resilience of governing bodies in the context of the pandemic to ensure that they continue to comply with the Regulatory Standards of Governance and Financial Management. We found that some RSLs faced a number of challenges including:
- ensuring that meetings were quorate and that key information and decisions were accurately recorded, including evidence of effective scrutiny and challenge;
- ensuring that minutes were up-to-date and published on websites including a number of RSLs who’s websites were also undergoing upgrades; and
- ensuring that conflicts of interest were being declared and managed appropriately.
We have fed back our findings to individual landlords where we noted the challenges set out above and are considering what further work we can do to support landlords.
It is also important that governing bodies are considering how they can build their resilience to manage all of the challenges they need to consider.
It is critical that landlords have good quality data on their performance, their compliance obligations and on the condition of their homes. During this year’s annual risk assessment, we found that some landlords had not accurately reported their compliance with the Scottish Housing Quality Standard in their ARCs. To enable landlords to make the best decisions for their tenants, it is essential that they have robust and accurate data.
Unsuitable accommodation order data
We know that landlords still have work to do to address the backlog of people who are in temporary accommodation that built up over the last two years as a result of the pandemic. The Unsuitable Accommodation Order was originally introduced in 2014 to prevent local authorities placing homeless households with pregnant women and/or children in unsuitable accommodation.
Following a recommendation from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group and a consultation exercise on improving temporary accommodation standards, in 2019 the Scottish Government announced that the Order would be extended to cover all homeless households. The introduction of this was paused in light of the pandemic but this temporary exception ended on 30 September 2021 and the Order now applies to all homeless households. We will be seeking assurance about local authorities’ compliance with the Order.
We have also seen through the quarterly COVID-19 returns how RSLs have supported local authorities in delivering their statutory duties in relation to homelessness. This will continue to be an important support particularly to help address the number of people living in temporary accommodation and the likely need for accommodation for refugees from Ukraine.