Sounding Board - second meeting - 26 November 2010

 

Scottish Social Housing Charter - Sounding Board

 

Minute of the second meeting of the Charter Sounding Board held on Friday 26 November 2010 at Highlander House, Glasgow

 

Present

 

William

Fleming

Scottish Government, Chair

Anne

Cook

Scottish Government

Laura

Gilbert

Scottish Government

Ian

Spence

Scottish Government - minutes

Fiona

Selkirk

Audit Scotland

David

Bookbinder

Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland

Patricia

Gallagher

Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum

Rose

Bowie

Regional Network of Registered Tenant Organisations

Jim

Hendry

Regional Network of Registered Tenant Organisations

Hanna

McCulloch

Scottish Disability Equality Forum

Alan

Stokes

Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

Andy

Robinson

Scottish Housing Regulator

James

Bennett

Scottish Tenants Organisation

Fiona

King

Shelter Scotland

Isobel

Wilson

Tenants Information Service

Jamie

Ballantine

Tenant Participation Advisory Service

Therese

Mullen

Tenants Regulation Advisory Group

 

Apologies

 

Kenny

Simpson

Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers

Caroline

Johnston

COSLA

Kennedy

Foster

Council of Mortgage Lenders

Martin

Hayward

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Tina

Beattie

Regional Network of Registered Tenant Organisations

Vincent

Heneghen

Regional Network of Registered Tenant Organisations

Sarah

Hutchison

Scottish Information Commissioner

Bill

Chapman

Tenant Assessor Panel

 

1          Welcome and opening remarks

William Fleming welcomed members to the second meeting of the sounding board for the Scottish Social Housing Charter.  He particularly welcomed David Bookbinder of the CIH, substituting for Natalie Sutherland; Alan Stokes of the SFHA, substituting for Lorna Paterson; and Isobel Wilson of TIS, substituting for Ilene Campbell.

 

2          Minutes of the Last Meeting and Matters Arising

The minutes of the last meeting were accepted as a true record.  There were no matters arising.

 

3          Stakeholder Papers on the Charter

Mr Fleming thanked the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and the Scottish Tenants Organisation (STO) for circulating their respective papers (copies of which are attached to these minutes for reference).  He invited Mr Bookbinder and Mr Bennett to introduce them.

David Bookbinder said that the CIH paper had two purposes when first drafted.  The first had been to challenge the extended timetable leading to the introduction of the Charter.  CIH now accepted that the proposed timetable seemed sensible when  various legitimate legal reasons were taken into account. 

The second purpose was to give people a starting point for discussion.  He was sure that the finished Charter would look very different from the CIH draft.  CIH did not wish to pour cold water on the idea of starting development of the Charter from a blank sheet of paper, but saw no need to reinvent the wheel.  CIH did not want the process of developing the Charter to get in the way of the important and necessary discussion about how tenants can get involved in self-assessment.  Mr Bookbinder welcomed the paper from the Scottish Tenants Organisation as the CIH paper had been intended to start just such a discussion.

James Bennett thanked the CIH for putting its hat into the ring and thereby giving the STO the chance to respond with its own thoughts.  The STO was of the opinion that getting well written and enforceable outcomes was crucial to the success of the Charter.  His paper tried to highlight the issues that mattered to tenants.  He noted that the STO feared landlords might be tempted to use litigation to try to water down the Charter.

 

Mr Fleming gave the members an update on the progress of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, to highlight the ways in which the process affected the timing of the development of the Charter.  The Bill had been approved by the Scottish Parliament on 3 November and was expected to receive Royal Assent before the end of 2010, to become the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010.  The Act then had to be commenced.   

Mr Fleming expected that Scottish Ministers would move quickly to commence the provisions on Right to Buy; then the new independent Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) had to come into existence.  To that end, the advertisements for Chair and Board members had been published.  The closing date for applications was 17 December 2010, with results expected to be announced by early Spring 2011.  This would allow the Board to come into existence on 1 April 2011.

The new body would then consult stakeholders on how it should carry out its duties, while the existing agency continued to exercise the current range of regulatory functions on behalf of Ministers.

This approach had implications for the timing of the Charter, as the new independent SHR had to be consulted on a draft before a Charter could go before the Scottish Parliament for approval.    

Mr Fleming expressed the hope that, by the time it came into force, the process for developing the Charter would have resulted in a sense of shared ownership of it among tenants, landlords the new independent SHR and other stakeholders.

 

Jamie Ballantine of the Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) asked what the future held for performance standards.  He expressed the view that housing professionals had no desire to see them scrapped, but felt the time was right to refresh them.  Mr Ballantine suggested that the SHR might need something like the standards framework on which to hang the assessment of outcomes.

Andy Robinson of the SHR said in reply that it would be the job of the new SHR to determine how to assess whether a landlord had achieved the outcomes set in the Charter.  The new body could refer to the existing performance standards if it felt that doing so would be helpful.  He suggested that the Charter might well contain fewer outcomes than the 30 or 40 performance standards, but that the main themes addressed by the standards would, in all probability, be covered by the Charter.

 

In discussion the following points were raised -

Landlord self-assessment remained a contentious issue for tenants.  For such an approach to have any credibility among tenants, it would need to be clear that they were involved in all aspects of any assessment process.

It remained important to engage not just existing tenants, but also potential tenants, homeless people and other service users in the development of the Charter.  Mr Fleming said that the Charter team was small and constrained in its ability to engage directly in stakeholder events.  However, it would make every effort to attend Charter events arranged by member organisations.  It also hoped that members would use their existing networks of contacts to disseminate information, and encourage discussion, about the Charter, particularly among harder to reach groups. 

There was an argument in favour of the Charter having separate outcomes relating to homeless people, disabilities and equalities.  A counter argument was that if outcomes implicitly took into account all the needs of a service user, there would be no necessity for separate outcomes around particular groups of service users.  For example, to deliver a good outcome, communication would have to be in a format that suited the needs of a particular service user, whatever those needs may be.   

 

4          The Charter Discussion Paper - Proposed Outline

Mr Fleming said that, having completed the round of Charter roadshow events, the next task for the Charter team was to draw the information that had been gathered into a discussion paper.  Members had been given sight of a synopsis before the meeting and he invited their views on whether both the proposed outline and the draft outcomes looked reasonable.  Mr Fleming did not wish to claim that the roadshow events gave the Charter team a view in to the minds of all tenants; rather it was only a starting point, with the discussion paper a way to broaden the debate and reach more tenants.

Laura Gilbert said that the team had completed the calendar of 12 events around the country, with about 650 delegates attending.  The Charter team hoped that delegates would help to spread word about the Charter and discuss it with others.  A summary of the events had been published on the Charter website, which had had about 2,800 visitors.

The Tenants Information Service (TIS) and TPAS had run focus groups; colleagues from the Tenant Participation team had attended tenant-led events; and a number of landlords had held events.  Reports from several of these had been published on the website.

 

In discussion the following points were raised -

Effective two-way communication between landlords and tenants was of prime importance.  Landlords had to communicate in ways that tenants could understand, and had to listen - and respond - to what tenants said in reply. 

Members agreed that not all tenants wanted to be active in tenant participation; however it was important that everyone had the chance to be involved if they wished.

Outcomes should be rooted in a test of reasonableness.  A sensible tenant should be able to tell without much difficulty whether or not their landlord was delivering the outcomes.

Members generally felt that the suggested outcomes, although in the form of very rough drafts, were pitched fairly well.

There was some concern about the cost to smaller landlords of administering the Charter.  Mr Fleming reiterated the point made by the Minister for Housing and Communities, Alex Neil, during the Housing Bill Sounding Board, that a guiding principle of the Charter was that it should not seek to reinvent the wheel; nor should it result in increased costs for landlords or tenants.

 

Summing up this part of the meeting, Mr Fleming said that the Charter team would begin work on the discussion paper proper, and would attempt to circulate a first draft to members before Christmas.  He said that while the sounding board could not be expected to act as a drafting committee, he invited comments on the tone and layout of the paper, and would be particularly pleased if members could point out any glaring omissions. 

 

5             Any Other Business

There was no other business.

 

6          Date of Next Meeting

Mr Fleming suggested that the next meeting should take place in early 2011 shortly after the publication of the discussion paper. 

Mr Fleming thanked the members for attending and closed the meeting.

 

 

 

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