Andrew Watson - Blog - Rural & Islands Landlord Group meeting - 14 May 2024


24 May 2024


24 May 2024

Andrew Watson - Blog - Rural & Islands Landlord Group meeting - 14 May 2024

We held the fourth meeting of the Rural & Islands landlord group on 14 May 2024. This is one of the three standing groups of senior people from Registered Social Landlords we meet with regularly to discuss important and topical issues in social housing in Scotland. We meet with the groups to help us understand the challenges faced by those we regulate.

The group members firstly spoke of the uncertainty they are having to operate with, particularly around net zero. Members felt that the delays in finalising the proposed Social Housing Net Zero Standard and the lack of clarity on government funding was having a significant impact on their ability to plan across the full range of their activities. Members also touched on the wider implications of funding net zero, with one member speaking of a possible eighty percent reduction in the number of new homes they could afford to build if they had to fully fund the likely costs of retrofitting existing homes to the new standard.  Members also spoke about delays in confirmation of net zero grants putting at risk programmes for investment in the current year and beyond.

Members went on to highlight a more general and emerging problem of what one member described as “policy drift”, where national policy is delayed or the expectations on landlords remain unclear. Members felt that this increased the likelihood that social landlords would become more cautious, or even risk averse, when developing future plans. Members also spoke about having to deal with policy conflicts, including those around building new homes while keeping rents affordable and addressing net zero while tackling fuel poverty. All of the members highlighted the challenge that short-term planning at the national level presents to their longer term budgeting and planning.

The group’s members emphasised the importance of national policymakers being close to social landlords and the crucial importance of local context and considerations, especially in rural areas and islands, remaining to the fore in decision making.

Members were confident that traditional lenders still view social landlords as good places to invest, and that it remains relatively straightforward to get borrowing for the right projects. However, they highlighted that social landlords, particularly those operating in rural areas and islands, are becoming less attractive as development partners to smaller, local building and maintenance contractors because of more complicated procurement processes and the higher building standards required in social housing. Supply chain weakness was noted as a general issue, with a very limited, or no, contractors available to meet local needs,  

Group members highlighted growing difficulties in meeting the need for homes for local workers, including key workers. Members emphasised the importance of having flexibility in allocation policies, balancing priorities on homelessness, key workers and other housing needs. The group would welcome further guidance on the use of local lettings initiatives. The members welcomed work which community groups did on housing and observed that social landlords could supplement this effort with expertise and support. 

The conversation moved on to the cost of living crisis, with members telling of the continuing difficult impact of this on tenants and local communities. One member noted that the demand for financial inclusion services had never been higher. The cost of food was highlighted as a particular issue in rural and Island communities.

The groups agreed that there would be value in focusing the discussion at its next meeting on what the future agenda may be for social housing and what things social landlords may need to consider in to the longer term.