Michael Cameron - Scotland's Housing Festival - 20 May 2022


20 May 2022

The new Scottish Social Housing Charter

This does have the feel of a joke without the punchline, given that we don’t yet have the final revised Charter.  That said, I think most of us will have seen a near final version, or won’t be too surprised by what’s changed and what’s not changed.

At one level, the timing of the review may have been better had it been a year or so from now. There may have been some advantage in having a bit more of an opportunity to better understand what the last two years of living through the pandemic has meant for how landlords engage with their customers, and how the expectations of those customers may have changed or be changing, and then to have had those possible changes reflected in the revised Charter.  But I also appreciate that the Scottish Government was working to statutory timescales for the review.  So we are where we are.

Many of the changes to the Charter are simple refreshes – pretty uncontentious updates that keep the Charter relevant to the current context.  There’s a lot of consistency with the current version of the Charter; so, and notwithstanding what I’ve just said, given the upheaval of the last two years, it is arguably not unhelpful the there is a continuity – a stability – in the Charter and so in the expectations on landlords.

Perhaps the most obvious change is the greater prominence given to the right to adequate housing.  There’s also more references to digital and digital communication – again, not surprising given the experience of the last two years or so.  And there is a more explicit focus on support for victims / survivors of domestic abuse, and on the prevention of homelessness.

There is also an update to outcome 4 to reflect the changing standards relating to energy efficiency and decarbonisation of heating.  Of course, we are awaiting announcement around the review of EESSH and for the outcome of the review to clarify what landlords will need to achieve around energy efficiency and decarbonisation.  We wrote to all landlords in February advising that we will now collect through the 2022 Annual Return on the Charter (ARC) a more limited number of indicators on EESSH as we await the outcome of the Government’s review.

So, not huge change, and where there is change, probably not too surprising. 

And so, we might expect the achievement of the revised Charter to be pretty straightforward.

Except that we are living through the most incredible period in recent history.  And I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on what you’ve taken from the last couple of years and what you think it will mean for us all in to the longer term.

We’ve said on a number of occasions now, that when the pandemic hit social landlords were amongst the first on to the frontline in local communities to support people through the challenges of the early days of lockdown.  They moved at pace to adapt to that new and challenging environment.  We saw landlords using their knowledge of their tenants and local communities to respond to their most urgent needs.

Of course, we are all now on the path out of the pandemic.  There is a significant recovery to be undertaken, and that will undoubtedly take time. 

On its own that would be challenging enough, but we are now facing a wider range of challenges that would have been unthinkable as little as five years ago, and go well beyond those presented by the pandemic.  The world we operate in has never been more unpredictable, volatile and complex. 

So, on top of the recovery from the pandemic, we are all having to respond to:

  • the most difficult economic context in a generation, with many tenants and their families facing increasing financial hardship;
  • the climate emergency and the drive to decarbonise heating in homes;
  • major problems in supply chains for materials and labour, that are driving up costs;
  • potential increases in pension deficits, and the resulting increases in the contributions that landlords have to fund; and
  • the need to invest to protect from increasing incidents of cyber-attack.

Unfortunately that’s not an exhaustive list. 

This all serves to illustrate just how interconnected our housing system is, and how much of what we do is dependent on, or influenced by, the wider economy and global systems.  

So, while the Charter is not far from what we had before, there is a wider question around the continuing capacity of social landlords to keep delivering to those standards in the most challenging of context.

This highlights the importance of enhancing and safeguarding the resilience of our organisations and of the communities we serve.  Building and testing organisational resilience, including the capacity to handle unexpected events, have become even more critical elements of leadership and business planning.  I think it will be hugely, and increasingly, important for each of you to understand what your organisation will need to do to be resilient and to stay resilient. 

We are starting to give some thought to what a regulatory focus on resilience might look like.  And I would be very keen to hear your thoughts on how we can sustain and strengthen the resilience in social housing.

The coming period may be the most testing that social landlords have ever had to face.  But social landlords in Scotland have weathered many storms over the years in which they have been building homes and sustaining communities.  That’s a track record we can take some comfort from.