Public Law

The Housing (Scotland) Bill has recently been passed by the Scottish Parliament and while the scrapping of the right to buy policy has made all the headlines, there are other significant new proposals which will have an impact on the social housing sector. The Scottish Government has indicated that it expects the Housing (Scotland) Bill to receive royal assent before Christmas and in light of that it has already commenced the consultation on the proposed Scottish Social Housing Charter. The relevant web page (http://housingcharter.scotland.gov.uk/about ) is informative and is written in plain English. It explains that when it comes into force the Act will require Ministers to consult on and then set the outcomes that social landlords should achieve and that the Scottish Social Housing Charter will be the document which contains these outcomes. Helpfully it goes on to explain that outcomes are simply results. The web page also provides an example that helps the reader distinguish between prescribed actions and results. This may have been considered necessary because the Ministers apparently want consultees to concentrate on providing ideas about what a good housing service should look like, rather than how the end product might be achieved. Whilst section 31 of the new Act will refer to the Charter setting out outcomes and standards which social landlords should aim to achieve when performing housing activities, the consultation webpage does not refer to standards, only to outcomes. One unintentional outcome (or result) of that omission might be that respondents will be less inclined to talk about matters such as minimum standards for the construction of new homes and the maintenance of existing housing stock, than about matters such as response times for repairs and complaints processes. The Ministers may want to consider tweaking the text a little so as to ensure that all of these matters receive adequate attention. The Bill does not prescribe what the Charter must contain by way of standards or outcomes but it does make a number of suggestions. The web page does not repeat these suggestions, which is probably unfortunate, as unless you are familiar with the content of the Bill it might not occur to you that the other suggestions in the Bill as to what might be included in the Charter include matters such as the provision and management of sites for gypsies and travellers, or the contribution of social landlords to and promotion of, the environmental well-being and regeneration of the areas in which housing accommodation is situated, or indeed about the prevention of harassment or anti-social behaviour. Ministers may have decided to consult on those matters at a later date but they haven’t said that on their web page. It is possible to register on line for the purpose of posting comments or making suggestions on what should be in the Charter. Thus far relatively few comments have been posted, but it is early days yet. However, one interesting post raises the old chestnut of governance. The writer of the post clearly understands the concept of an outcome. In this particular case the writer also has views on how the outcome might be achieved! The recommendations made to Ministers are that “management committees should be prepared to attend relevant training, retire from the committee after a specified time, and take questions from the tenants in their housing association, face to face”. According to the writer, if these things are done and are monitored properly, the outcome will be “a stronger, fairer and more focused management committee with developed skills”. Whilst it is perhaps difficult to argue with the logic of this particular post, it is perfectly possible to suggest that the comment is not directly relevant to the consultation exercise being undertaken with reference to the Charter. This is because the Charter is not to be concerned with governance issues. Governance issues will be covered by a Code of Conduct that will be prepared by the new Scottish Housing Regulator. In due course the Regulator will consult on the Code of Conduct .Unfortunately the consultation web page in respect of the Charter does not provide that information, so the writer of the post can be excused for perhaps not knowing it. Others may make similar points (indeed there has already been a measure of support for the existing post). It would be good housekeeping for the Ministers to sweep up any governance related posts and ensure that they are passed on to the Regulator so that they are not overlooked during the course of the consultation in respect of the Code of Conduct – that would not be a good outcome (result).