About our annual risk assessment
Each year we carry out a risk assessment to enable us to plan our engagement with social landlords. We set out our approach and the risks we would focus on in our annual assessment in The risks we will focus on (November 2022).
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.
We are continuing to experience challenging economic times flowing largely from Brexit impacts and the war in Ukraine as well as continuing to deal with the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our housing system is interconnected with, and much of what we do is dependent on, or influenced by, these wider economic and global headwinds. The resulting cost of living crisis is leading to significant hardship for many people, including some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Our risk assessment has taken place against this backdrop which presents significant challenges for tenants, people who are threatened with, or experiencing homelessness, Gypsy/Travellers, other service users and landlords. These challenges include:
- high energy costs for households leading to fuel poverty for many even after Government assistance with bills;
- the on-going rising costs of food shopping leading to hardship for many households;
- affordability of rents being a real concern for many tenants and Gypsy/Travellers;
- some local authorities unable to always meet their statutory obligations to people experiencing homelessness particularly in the provision of appropriate temporary accommodation;
- high costs in supply chains for labour and materials causing issues for many landlords in maintaining and investing in their existing homes and building new homes;
- landlords under pressure to deliver on the net zero agenda and a greater scrutiny of the condition of homes more broadly; and
- landlords having to manage increasing operating costs including wage increases in the context of high inflation and higher interest rates impacting the cost of borrowing.
It is therefore more important than ever that social landlords have an up to date and robust business plan, are alive to all the risks they may face and that they have adequate risk management and mitigation measures in place to help ensure that the interests of tenants and other service users are protected.
This report provides a summary of the key outcomes from this year’s annual risk assessment.
About our role
Our statutory objective is to safeguard and promote the interests of tenants and others who use the services of social landlords. We do this by monitoring, assessing and reporting on all landlords’ performance of housing activities and the financial well-being and standards of governance of Registered Social Landlords (RSLs).
So we include every social landlord in the risk assessment: 32 local authority landlords and 139 RSLs. Within our risk assessment we therefore consider how landlords deliver services to:
- people who are homeless and people at risk of homelessness;
- Gypsy/Travellers who use official sites provided by some of these landlords; and
- factored owners.
About the information we use
All landlords must also make an Annual Assurance Statement (AAS) to confirm to their tenants and us that they are meeting regulatory requirements. The content of these Statements also forms part of our risk assessment.
For all landlords we also gather 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 to or is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive or reports from regulatory or statutory authorities or insurance providers, relating to safety concerns.
Section five below provides some more information about what we found while undertaking our risk assessment.
As our statutory remit is broader for RSLs than our remit with local authorities we also consider notifiable events, a range of financial information including their Audited Financial Statements (AFS), financial forecasts and loan portfolio details, and information from auditors. In order for emerging financial risks to be managed, RSLs closely monitoring forecasts will be paramount, and forecasts should be updated where necessary.
For local authorities we also use the Scottish Government’s official statistics on homelessness.
Our engagement with RSLs
We publish a Regulatory Status for each RSL. 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.
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.
- 131 RSLs are compliant with Regulatory Standards and regulatory requirements (with an additional three RSLs under review) (136 last year with an additional four under review); and
- five RSLs do not meet the Regulatory Standards and regulatory requirements and are working towards compliance (six last year).
We are not currently using statutory powers in any RSLs. We did not use statutory powers in the previous year.
The main reasons for our engagement with RSLs
We’re engaging with:
- nine RSLs about tenant and resident safety (10 last year);
- 24 RSLs about governance (30 last year);
- 19 RSLs about finance (33 last year);
- five RSLs about planned organisational changes (14 last year);
- seven RSLs about service quality (two last year);
- five RSLs about stock quality (five last year);
- 23 RSLs about development (28 last year); and
- 24 RSLs because they are systemically important (unchanged).
On some occasions we are engaging with an RSL for more than one reason.
Where we are engaging with an RSL about finance and considering its business plan, we will also discuss with the RSL how it has satisfied itself that its rents are affordable for its tenants.
We have not determined a regulatory status for five RSLs who have transferred engagements (or its homes) to another RSL during the year. These were:
- Abbeyfield Scotland to Blackwood Homes and Care;
- Charing Cross Housing Association to West of Scotland Housing Association;
- Pentland Housing Association to Cairn Housing Association;
- Strathclyde Camphill Housing Society (transferred its homes) to Wheatley Homes Glasgow; and
- West Lothian Housing Partnership (transferred its homes) to Wheatley Homes East.
We also removed six RSLs from the Register of Social landlords (the Register), following transfers to other RSLs during the year and in 2021/22. These were
- Abbeyfield Scotland;
- Aberdeen Soroptimist Housing Society;
- Charing Cross Housing Association;
- Cube Housing Association;
- Faifley Housing Association; and
- Pentland Housing Housing Association.
Systemically important RSLs
Some RSLs are of a size, or 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 2023/24. 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 further above to form a view on each local authorities’ 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.
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 landlords’ 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 councils are complying with statutory duties. So through our 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 they have reason to believe are homeless, 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 2022/23 we spoke to all local authorities to gather further information and assurance about their homelessness services and we will do this again in 2023/24.
In 2023/24 our conversations with local authorities will have a particular focus on how they are delivering appropriate temporary accommodation for people experiencing homelessness. This follows our report from February 2023 where we published the findings of our thematic review of our work on the services provided by local authorities to help people experiencing homelessness. We found that there is evidence of increasing, and more widespread, breaches of statutory duties around the provision of temporary accommodation, and that some households with particular equality characteristics do not always receive a service that meets their specific needs.
We will also engage with 17 local authorities about specific aspects of their homelessness service (22 last year). We will engage with:
- four local authorities about access (four last year);
- 10 about assessment (15 last year);
- nine about temporary accommodation (10 last year); and
- fifteen about outcomes (13 last year).
On some occasions we are engaging with a local authority in more than one specific area of their services to people experiencing homelessness.
We are also engaging with local authorities on the following basis:
- four 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 (five last year);
- 12 local authorities about tenant and resident safety (two last year);
- six local authorities about service quality (four last year); and
- three local authorities about stock quality (zero last year).
On some occasions we are engaging with a local authority in more than one of these areas.
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 an updated Regulatory Status for RSLs. We will set out the reasons for reviewing an RSL’s Regulatory Status in an updated engagement plan.
Strategic risk areas
In carrying out our annual risk assessment, we identified a number of notable risk areas. Some of these are on-going, while others have arisen more recently.
The Scottish Government’s Social Housing Charter includes the outcomes / standards:
“Social landlords manage all aspects of their businesses so that:
- tenants, owners and other customers receive services that provide continually improving value for the rent and other charges they ”
“Social landlords set rents and service charges in consultation with their tenants and other customers so that:
- a balance is struck between the level of services provided, the cost of the services, and how far current and prospective tenants and service users can afford them
- tenants get clear information on how rent and other money is spent, including details of any individual items of expenditure above thresholds agreed between landlords and tenants.”
The Standards of Governance and Financial Management for Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) include:
“The RSL manages its resources to ensure its financial well-being, while maintaining rents at a level that tenants can afford to pay.”
Keeping rents as affordable as possible for their tenants is a principal objective of all social landlords. In a context of rising inflation and significant pressures on the household finances of tenants, this objective has never been more important.
However, landlords’ rent setting also needs to consider rising costs and inflation while recognising the financial hardship that is a reality for many of their tenants.
We participate in the Scottish Government’s working group on rent affordability, which aims to agree a common understanding of affordability. We published a thematic report on rent increases in October 2022, and in March 2023 also published details of planned rent increases by landlords for 2023/24.
Rising costs and inflation
Landlords are having to deal with very real and significant challenges around increasing costs, including those for:
- borrowing, with the Bank of England increasing interest rates by 0.5% to 4.25% in March 2023;
- materials and labour for repairing, maintaining and improving tenants’ homes;
- pay increases for staff and other staff costs; and
- energy costs for offices, costs for other office supplies, and vehicle fleet costs.
Many landlords are experiencing significant inflationary pressures in terms of construction and maintenance costs. They will also face a range of major new demands on them in the coming years such as net zero carbon commitments in addition to building new homes to meet the demand for social housing. Governing bodies will require regular assurance of the impact of this on business plans and therefore their ability to deliver the services their tenants and other service users want and need.
Tenant and Resident Safety
Ensuring that tenants live in warm, safe and dry homes is at the heart of what we do.
Our risk assessment therefore included stock quality as well as tenant and resident safety, including how landlords ensure homes are meeting the Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS) and their statutory obligations on health and safety.
Given the importance of gas safety we reviewed all landlords’ Charter returns and contacted some to get further assurance in this area in July 2022. We also considered the extent to which landlords were complying with new requirements in relation to electrical safety testing and the installation of linked heat and smoke detectors and engaged with some landlords about their plans to meet these requirements.
During our assessment, we found that compliance with SHQS fell from 86% in 2020/21 to 72% in 2021/22.
In the information submitted to us by landlords we saw that most of the homes failing or in abeyance from SHQS appear to be because some landlords had yet to fully comply with new requirements on electrical safety inspections and installation of interlinked smoke and heat detectors. Compliance was due in February 2022. Some of this non-compliance is a result of delays caused by the pandemic. Nevertheless, landlords must fully meet the requirements as a matter of urgency. Landlords should further ensure they have accurate data to help with monitoring and reporting compliance.
We also wrote to all social landlords in December 2022 about mould and damp. We expect governing bodies and committees to consider the systems that they have in place to ensure that their tenants’ homes are not affected, and they have proactive systems to identify and deal with any reported cases of mould and damp timeously.
It is critical that landlords have good quality data on their performance, their compliance with 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 the Annual Return on the Charter. To enable landlords to make the best decisions for their tenants, it is essential that they have robust and accurate data.
As part of our annual risk assessment, we engaged with all councils about their services to people who are homeless.
In February 2023 we also published a thematic review of homelessness services in Scotland. It draws on the evidence from our engagement and from the information we gather to inform our annual risk assessment. To also help inform the review and our approach to regulation, we met in December 2022 with homelessness and advocacy bodies to hear about their work and perspectives.
In the report we highlighted that councils face three major strategic challenges in providing homeless services:
- dealing with the significant numbers of people currently in temporary accommodation;
- maintaining a sufficient supply of appropriate temporary accommodation; and
- ensuring access to the number of permanent homes that are needed.
We found that there is considerable pressure on councils in the provision of homelessness services, and there are actions councils should and can take to respond to these challenges and to meet their statutory obligations; however, for some there is an emerging risk of systemic failure.
It is in this context that we called upon the Scottish Government to consider what further urgent measures it can take to support councils to respond to the immediate challenges they face in delivering services for people who are homeless.
Ensuring that an RSL’s governance is as robust as it can be is critical in managing the challenges they face. Each year governance is a key focus of our risk assessment. We consider a range of information in our assessment, this included:
- reviewing recent governing body minutes of all RSLs. We did this because 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; and
- a review of RSLs’ annual assurance statements. We did this because landlord self-assurance is at the heart of our approach to regulation. This is a way for RSL governing bodies (and local authority committees) to declare that they are assured their organisation complies with regulatory requirements and standards and other statutory obligations. And to disclose areas where they need to improve, how they will do this and by when.
This was the second consecutive year we had considered the governing body minutes for all RSLs. We saw an improvement from last year in the availability and quality of minutes. Scope for further improvement remains for a small number of landlords and these are in the following areas:
- ensuring minutes are up to date and published. Some RSLs were only offering a copy of the minutes by request;
- publishing in a timely manner;
- low attendance at meetings;
- ensuring the volume of agenda items is not excessive and information is provided to the governing body in advance of the meeting; and
- ensuring effective scrutiny and constructive challenge.
From our review of annual assurance statements, we found that the vast majority of RSLs and local authorities reported compliance with regulatory requirements and other obligations, and we agreed with those assessments on the basis of other information we consider in our risk assessment. Where further discussion was required, we reflected the outcomes in published engagement plans.
Landlords should continue to:
- set out any areas of material non-compliance, and describe briefly how it is planning to improve in those areas and the timeframe for improvement;
- confirm it has seen and considered appropriate evidence to support the level of assurance it has;
- confirm the date of the meeting of governing body or committee at which it considered and agreed the statement; and
- notify us during the year if anything happens which materially changes the level of assurance in its statement.