Cyberattacks have risen dramatically – internal auditors take note - Blog by our Chief Executive, Michael Cameron


09 July 2021

Cyberattacks have risen dramatically – internal auditors take note - A blog by Michael Cameron, Chief Executive

I’ve said on a number of occasions that social landlords were among the first on to the frontline in local communities, supporting their tenants and residents through the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting public health response.

For many landlords, that meant adapting quickly so they were able to keep delivering essential services when business-as-usual was not possible, and that will have included adopting digital tools and approaches.

I heard it said recently that many businesses and public services had crammed three years of digital development in to the first three months of the national lockdown that started in March last year; necessity as the mother of invention – or perhaps that should be innovation, or acceleration at the very least.

It will be interesting to see if the pandemic results in a significant shift or recalibration in customers’ expectations and in how they now want to interact and engage with their landlord. It is likely that many tenants and service users will now expect to be able to engage with their landlord digitally if that is what works best for them.

Of course most landlords had already driven forward with digital to some degree, and some have gone considerably further, including around the use of new digital technologies to support independent living.

Many social landlords in Scotland have endorsed the Digital Participation Charter, promoted by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, and the Tec in Housing Charter that promotes technology-enabled care.

Our own National Panel of Tenants and Service Users has always been on a virtual digital footing, and our tenant liaison group has moved into the virtual world as a response to the current restrictions on meeting in person.

The opportunities presented by, and the benefits of, digital technologies are starting to be realised by social landlords. Of course, digital also brings challenges and risks.

Many tenants are able and confident to use digital channels to engage and interact with their landlords, but not all are. Tackling digital exclusion among their tenants will be an important task for landlords to ensure that as many as possible can benefit from the advantages digital can bring.

The number and sophistication of cyberattacks has risen dramatically since the start of the pandemic.

So, it is important that landlords consider what security they need to put in place to protect their digital systems, including the personal data of tenants and staff.

Prevention is always better than cure, and cyber security might be a fruitful area for internal auditors to review. The National Cyber Security Centre has a wealth of material and tools on its website to help organisations defend themselves against the increasing cyber threat.

Landlords will need to make proper provision for the costs associated with cyber security in business plans and financial forecasts.

For many tenants and landlords, nothing will top face-to-face interactions, and a local presence in communities will remain central to the purpose and values of most social landlords. But without doubt, having the capacity to engage with tenants and service users digitally will give a landlord flexibility and enable it to meet a wider range of customer expectations.

It will also significantly enhance the landlord’s resilience, giving it wider options to respond to unforeseen events or developments, and that is important in an increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex world.

Digital-first is often promoted as the future for service delivery. That may not be what works best for social housing, and perhaps digital-if-wanted and digital-when-needed would work better.

The Scottish government’s upcoming review of the Scottish Social Housing Charter is an opportunity to reflect on the lessons from the past 15 months, and should provide for a meaningful dialogue with tenants, residents and communities around what’s important to them and what they want and need from their landlords in the coming years.

The role for digital in the delivery of housing services and its place in supporting tenant participation should be an important topic in that dialogue.

Michael Cameron, Chief Executive, Scottish Housing Regulator

Originally published in Inside Housing on 29 June 2021