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Tenants' and Staff Attitudes Following Transfers of Public Sector Housing in Scotland - Research Findings

DescriptionThis study assesses the experience of tenants and staff who have transferred from public housing. It is based on interviews with 1000 tenants involved in 10 transfers.
ISBN
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No 37 (1997)
Tenants' and Staff Attitudes following transfers of public sector housing in Scotland

Tony Graham et al
ODS Ltd

ISBN 0-7480-6453-2Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
Since the mid 1980s, Scottish public sector landlords have been transferring their housing stock to alternative landlords, predominantly registered housing associations and co-operatives. This study, commissioned jointly with Scottish Homes, assesses the experience of tenants and staff who have transferred. It is based on interviews with 1000 tenants involved in 10 transfers.
Main Findings
  • Overall, tenants who have transferred are more satisfied with the service they receive from their new landlords than from their previous landlord. They find the new landlords more efficient, more responsive, and more sensitive to their needs.
  • Of the tenants who said that the new landlord had made promises about rent levels at the time of transfer, 89% thought these promises had been kept.
  • Tenants generally say they were not concerned by the prospect of transferring to a new landlord. Only a minority of tenants had become actively involved in the process; the majority of tenants appeared to have few concerns about transferring and were subsequently content with the outcome.
  • Generally tenants felt that they understood the transfer process sufficiently to make an informed choice in a ballot, and that the timescale for transfers was suitable.
  • Tenants did not perceive the transfer as having any significant effect on their tenants rights and were not concerned about the change from a secure to an assured tenancy.
  • If transfer ballots were re-held, the majorities in favour of transfer would be greater than they were in the actual ballots.
Introduction
In Scotland over 40,000 public sector tenants - about half of them tenants of Scottish Homes and about half tenants of local authorities - have transferred to alternative landlords. With the exception of the Scottish Homes' transfers in the Scottish Borders and West Lothian these have been to registered housing associations and co-operatives. In about three quarters of the local authority transfers and about half of the Scottish Homes' transfers, the stock has transferred to new organisations established specifically for the purpose of the transfer. In the remaining transfers, the stock has transferred to existing housing associations.
With the exception of the wholesale transfer in 1995 of the former Berwickshire District Council stock to Berwickshire HA, most local authority transfers have to date been small scale - less than 500 units - and they have generally been of poor quality housing in peripheral housing schemes. A key purpose of the transfer was to create a mechanism whereby Housing Association Grant funding could be channelled into the poorest public sector housing stock. A change from public to independent sector landlord was a pre-requisite of this.
Scottish Homes, the national housing agency, assumed responsibility for the stock of the former Scottish Special Housing Association when the agency was founded in 1989. Since then it has been the agency's policy to transfer its stock to a range of independent sector landlords.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the experience of tenants transferring to a new landlord, by interviewing a large number of tenants involved in 10 transfers. Two smaller parallel studies were also carried out: one of the experience and attitudes of staff transferring from a public sector landlord with the housing stock, and the other of the experience of tenants who had exercised the Right to Buy following transfer.
Tenants' Views
Most tenants do not appear to have been unduly troubled by the prospect of transferring to a new landlord. However, many tenants do not understand what type of organisation their new landlord is; over half do not know, and a quarter think it is either profit-making or a private company.
The study uncovered a number of areas where tenants were not familiar with the details of the transfer process - for example over 60% of tenants were unaware of the existence of an Independent Adviser. However tenants overall felt that they understood the transfer process sufficiently.
Some commentators have expressed concern about the effect of transfer on tenants' rights, the transferring tenant moving from an "assured" to a "secure" tenancy. Tenants who had transferred, however, generally felt that the transfer had no adverse effect on their rights.
Tenants reported increased satisfaction with the service they received from their new landlord:
Satisfaction with the service provided by the new compared to the previous landlord

Ex-LA Tenants

Ex- Scottish Homes' Tenants

All

%

%

%

Much more

17

11

14

More

26

30

28

Same

50

49

50

Less

3

6

5

Much less

2

3

3

Don't know

1

1

1

Some columns do not add to 100% because of rounding.
Increased satisfaction was particularly marked in the "development-led" transfers (which were primarily motivated by the opportunity to attract development funding).
This increased satisfaction has translated itself into tenants' hypothetical voting behaviour. They were asked both how they had voted in the actual ballot and how they would vote if the ballot were held the day after the interview.
Tenants' Voting Behaviour

Ex-LA Tenants

Ex-Scottish Homes' Tenants

Actual
Vote

%

How would
you vote tomorrow?
%

Actual
Vote

%

How would
you vote tomorrow?
%

For
transfer

70

76

63

74

Against
transfer

7

11

10

13

Didn't
vote

20

-

24

-

Don't
know

1

12

3

13

Refused to
answer

1

-

1

-

Some columns do not add to 100% because of rounding.
Tenants' reasons for supporting transfer were both positive and negative. Local authority tenants have generally been motivated by the prospect of obtaining substantial improvements or replacement housing under demolition and new-build programmes. Scottish Homes' tenants, on the other hand, gave as their principal reason for voting in favour the feeling that transfer was inevitable. However, even where the motives for voting were negative, the overall experience of tenants following transfer is either positive or that there have been no adverse effects.
Fewer than half of tenants could recall promises about improvements, service standards or rent levels made by new landlords at the time of transfer; only 42% of tenants believed that their new landlord had made promises about rent levels. 89% of these tenants, however, believed that the promises had been kept.
Most tenants feel that the opportunities to participate in the management of their homes and neighbourhoods has either improved or remained the same since transfer. Membership of the new landlord organisations varies widely between the 10 case study areas, and is much lower in the transfers from Scottish Homes.
Tenants who have bought their home
The transfer did not have a significant bearing on the decision of those tenants who bought their home after transfer. Their main reasons for purchasing were increasing rents compared to mortgage costs, and their long term aspiration to own.
Tenants of former local authority housing which had been improved or replaced with new housing indicated that they were more likely to buy their home. However former tenants of Scottish Homes or local authority tenants where no major improvements had been carried out indicated that they would be less likely to buy after transfer.
Staff Attitudes
The majority of public sector staff who have transferred to new landlords have been from Scottish Homes. Staff included in the small survey reported that, during the transfer process, there was a drop in morale, and uncertainty and anxiety about their future. Following transfer, approximately two thirds of the staff transferring feel that the transfer has provided both tenants and staff with a wide range of benefits. These include for tenants a more responsive service, more investment and more opportunities for involvement and control in the management of their own homes. For themselves, staff report more varied work, greater responsibility and opportunities, though the smaller landlords tend to provide less opportunity for promotion and career development within the organisation.
What lessons can be learned?
  • The experience of tenants who have transferred is sufficiently positive to encourage more transfers across the public sector.
  • Both transferring and receiving landlords should appreciate that the majority of tenants, while voting in the ballot, are unlikely to become actively involved in a stock transfer.
  • Many of the improvements in service come from transferring to an organisation which operates "closer" to the tenants and can take decisions more quickly.
  • Whereas the transfer process is considered to take a suitable length of time by the majority of tenants, the staff and tenants who are actively involved in it think it is protracted.
  • A key to success of transfer is the involvement of tenants both prior to the transfer and in the subsequent management of the new landlords.
About the study
The study involved over 1000 interviews with tenants who had transferred to new landlords between 1992 and 1996. The sample was drawn from 10 case study transfers, half of them transfers from local authorities, and half of them transfers from Scottish Homes. The case studies were selected to reflect a range of features. These included:
  • Geographical spread of transferring authority
  • Size of transfer
  • Tenant involvement in the receiving landlord
  • Whether the landlord was established for the purposes of the transfer or was in existence prior to it
Tenants were interviewed in their own homes. The interview covered the tenants' impressions of the new landlord, their views towards the transfer process and their voting behaviour. It also aimed to assess tenants' attitudes towards the service they receive from their new landlord, whether they were aware of promises or commitments which had been made prior to transfer and, if so, whether they felt these had been kept.
A sample of 30 tenants in 4 transfers who had bought their homes following transfer was interviewed. The main purpose of this was to assess the extent to which transferring had a bearing on the decision to buy. A postal survey of 27 staff involved in transferring was also carried out.
"Transfers of Local Authority and Scottish Homes Housing", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, is available priced £5.
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