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Identifying the Priorities of Tenants of Social Landlords

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1 KEY FINDINGS SUMMARY

  • 'Firm Foundations', the Scottish Government's discussion document on the future of housing in Scotland, identified some key issues for the social housing sector. In particular it highlighted how, unlike consumers in 'ordinary markets', tenants in social housing cannot easily wield influence over service providers by 'taking their custom elsewhere'.
  • To address this, 'Firm Foundations' proposed two key initiatives: Firstly, strengthening the role of tenants so that they can become more empowered customers of their landlord - the ongoing development of the Registered Tenant Organisation ( RTO) network is highlighted as a crucial step forward in this respect. Secondly, modernising the regulatory framework so that it exists to promote the needs and interests of tenants of social landlords.
  • The Scottish Government included proposals for modernising the regulatory framework in the consultation paper on the draft Housing (Scotland) Bill that it published on 27 April 2009. The proposals have two main elements: introducing a Scottish Social Housing Charter that would define the outcomes and value that social landlords should be delivering for their tenants; and modernising the Scottish Housing Regulator ( SHR) by giving it statutory independence with the objective of promoting the interests of tenants and prospective tenants and a range of modernised duties and powers to ensure that it achieved that objective.
  • Within this context the Scottish Government's Communities Analytical Services team commissioned Ipsos MORI and Heriot-Watt University to carry out research to inform the work of the Scottish Government in leading a national conversation about the outcomes that should be included in the Charter.
  • The research comprised five components:

1) a literature review of the current evidence base on tenants' satisfaction with services delivered by social landlords;

2) a telephone survey of a representative sample of 500 social housing tenants;

3) a postal survey of all Registered Tenant Organisations ( RTOs) in Scotland (of which we received 193 returns), who answered on behalf of their tenant members;

4) qualitative research among mainstream tenants; and

5) qualitative research among elected tenant members from each of the Regional Networks of RTOs in Scotland, who were representing tenants in their area.

  • The research highlighted a number of key findings which contribute to a better understanding of social tenants' priorities and of their perceptions of the SHR and its work. The Scottish Government can use these findings to inform its current review of the SHR's purposes and roles.

Overall priorities of tenants

  • The key service priority identified by tenants centred on immediate and 'everyday' services that directly affect the quality of tenants' lives on a daily basis. By far the biggest priority in this respect was the provision of good quality accommodation, with 23% of tenants rating this as the most important service relative to all other services. The second most important service was a good day-to-day repairs service (14% of tenants rated this as the most important service relative to all other services), followed by dealing with anti-social behaviour (12%), ensuring buildings and entrances are secure (11%), major modernisation and improvement work (9%) and dealing with nuisance neighbours (7%) (see Figure 3.2).
  • Broadly speaking, tenants' priorities were reflected in the views of RTOs; like tenants, their highest priority was provision of good quality accommodation, with 79% of RTOs rating this as essential. However, RTOs were more likely than tenants to prioritise services that impacted on the wellbeing of the wider estate or neighbourhood (see Table 3.1).
  • For the most part, those services that tenants and RTOs perceived as being foremost priorities also received high satisfaction ratings, while those services that received lower satisfaction ratings were perceived to be less important. However, this was less true of RTO responses. In particular, while attaching particularly high importance to addressing antisocial behaviour, RTOs tended to see landlords as weak performers here (see Figure 3.7).

Making judgements on service quality

  • Tenants had limited knowledge of how the standard of service provided and the rent charged by their landlord compares to other landlords. Although RTOs were more likely to be knowledgeable on such comparisons, this was still mixed across RTOs.
  • Further, tenants had mixed aspirations for knowing more about how the level of rent they pay and the services they receive compare to other social landlords. Moreover, among those who would like to know more, awareness of where to obtain information on landlord performance was limited.
  • Three quarters (74%) of tenants who pay rent and nearly two-thirds (60%) of RTOs rated the accommodation and services provided by their landlord as representing good value for money.
  • The two major considerations in determining perceptions on value for money were views on the standard of accommodation provided by landlords and rent levels. While tenants were most likely to mention the standard of accommodation as the factor primarily influencing their view on value for money, RTOs were most likely to mention rent levels.
  • A minority of tenants (38%) and RTOs (20%) favoured a move to a regime where tenants could opt for additional services attracting additional charges. Focus group evidence revealed that tenants were unwilling to pay more while perceived weaknesses with current services remained to be addressed.

Awareness and perceptions of the Scottish Housing Regulator

  • Awareness of inspection and regulation was low among tenants, with less than a quarter (24%) aware that the housing and other services provided by their landlord are inspected. Further, among those who were aware, only 1% identified the SHR as the organisation that carries out the inspection.
  • As might be expected, awareness of regulation and inspection was greater among RTOs, with two fifths (41%) aware of occasions in the last three years when housing provided in their area had been inspected. In addition, the majority of this group had some degree of involvement in the inspection process.
  • Despite limited awareness, nearly all tenants (95%) and RTOs (99%) believed it was important that their landlord's work is regulated and monitored by an independent organisation. Over a third (34%) of tenants and nearly three quarters (72%) of RTOs felt it was essential.
  • Nearly all RTOs (97%) believed that the SHR should monitor and regulate all landlords in the social rented sector, including local authorities and RSLs.
  • Despite being positive about the potential of the SHR to improve landlord services and create parity across different landlords, both tenants and RTOs had reservations about its work.
  • While tenants' concerns related to the need to ensure inspections were representative of a landlord's service - for example, by adopting a 'hands on' approach and inspecting a random sample of properties, and consulting tenants directly - RTOs were critical of the move towards carrying out 'proportionate' inspections. In particular, they were concerned that light touch inspections might be inadequate to ensure the maintenance of high standards.
  • In order for the SHR to function properly, both tenants and RTOs believed that it should be afforded sufficient powers to enforce change. While financial sanctions were perceived by both tenants and RTOs as counter-productive, there was a lack of consensus on the best means of penalising poorly performing landlords. Suggested actions included publicising findings or 'naming and shaming', implementing changes in management and enforcing housing stock transfers.