Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill A Consultation. Response from the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland

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1 Consultation response Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill A Consultation Response from the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland September

2 Introduction The Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland (CIH) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Scottish Government s consultation on the proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill. The Chartered Institute of Housing is the professional body for people involved in housing and communities. We are a registered charity and not-for-profit organisation. We have a diverse and growing membership of over 22,000 people both in the public and private sectors. CIH Scotland has more than 2,400 members working in local authorities, housing associations, housing co-operatives, Scottish Government and Government agencies, voluntary organisations, the private sector, and educational institutions. The CIH aims to ensure members are equipped to do their job by working to improve practice and delivery. We also represent the interests of our members in the development of strategic and national housing policy For more information on the contents of this paper, please contact the Policy and Practice Team: Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland 4 th Floor 125 Princes Street Edinburgh EH2 4AD

3 CIH Scotland Response to Consultation on Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill Effectiveness of the community planning process The community planning process primarily puts key agencies, rather than the community itself, round the table. Ideally those agencies have found successful ways of engaging with those who use their services, so that as an organisation they can reflect these views in the community planning process. Evidence of successful engagement by social landlords should increasingly be capable of being evidence through tenant input into the assessment of the landlord s performance against the outcomes of the Scottish Social Housing Charter. With the Charter come renewed expectations that landlords afford tenants and other customers every opportunity for influencing the landlord s decision making and the services it provides. It may well be the case that some landlords have been more successful than others in engaging with their tenants and wider communities. CIH Scotland believes that the overall effectiveness of community planning varies from area to area, and within any given area some organisations are likely to feel more plugged in than others to the process. For example, Community Planning in Edinburgh for example includes the Neighbourhood Management Boards: whilst members may have found it frustrating that there is little budget responsibility (and what little there once was has been reduced over the years), it is felt to be a valuable forum for partners coming together with community councils to set out priorities in a community plan and explore better collaboration with service delivery at a local level. Nationally though, the impression is that for the housing sector, community planning is seen as generally ineffective in many areas and not one of Scotland s better success stories. The fragmented nature of the housing sector covering council housing, housing association housing, private rented and owner occupied housing, may be one factor limiting the extent to which housing bodies can have much meaningful influence within community planning. That said, however, we would welcome further encouragement for housing bodies to be better included in the community planning process, given the continued emphasis by the Scottish Government on the importance of community planning and the intention that it should be a key driver in progressing Single Outcome Agreements and other Scottish Government priorities. Housing bodies will always want to work with a variety of other key agencies on different matters, such as tackling anti social behaviour or developing closer links with health and social care over issues such as adaptations and other services which enable people to live independently. But to do this, housing bodies are likely to seek to forge and maintain links with appropriate agencies rather than always try to do so through community planning. It is not therefore clear what appetite there would be

4 within the housing sector to find ways of better engaging in the community planning process, and CIH Scotland is of the view that any barriers are unlikely to be resolved through legislative means. A more specific emphasis on the effectiveness of preventative provision including good housing and related support services may equip key agencies, including health and social care, to identify the need for appropriate, lower level services which can help avoid the need for more expensive interventions at a later stage. Overarching duty to engage The consultation asks about the option of removing existing engagement duties such as those on social landlords and replacing them with an overarching duty to ensure effective community engagement. CIH Scotland would be happy to support an overarching duty but we would not wish to see existing engagement duties on social landlords dropped, for two reasons. Firstly, since the duties were introduced ten years ago under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, good progress has been made but, as recognised later on in the consultation document, there is scope for further progress. The importance of seeing this develop has been reinforced by the Scottish Social Housing Charter and the emphasis this places on maximising the opportunities for tenant involvement. In light of the fact that this is work in progress, it would not seem appropriate to remove these duties. CIH Scotland is always seeking to promote good practice in tenant engagement for example through specific events which showcase actual examples on the ground and we expect the advent of the Charter to generate strong interest in reviewing and improving practice in this area. Secondly, removal would effectively mean taking away a specific duty (in this case a landlord s duty to its tenants) and replacing it with an inevitably more amorphous, less tangible duty to the community. In practice, as the consultation relates to public sector engagement, the option being considered is removal of existing duties from local authorities but not from registered social landlords. This would result in council tenants have lesser tenancy rights than RSL tenants: Scotland fought hard for a unified Scottish Secure Tenancy for all council and RSL tenants and we do not wish to see changes which would mean different rights to consultation across the two sectors. We cannot see any problem with a new, overarching duty on local authorities to engage being introduced alongside the specific duties on local authority landlords in relation to their tenants. These could and should be two quite distinct duties capable of operating in tandem. Community councils Community councils are perhaps the most obvious vehicle through which a degree of devolution from local authorities to communities takes place. Their ability and capacity varies both across and within areas, largely because of the limited resources available to them to carry out their role effectively. The scope for legislation to clarify their status

5 and strengthen their role should be explored; their role needs to be more widely promoted; and they need to be better resourced and otherwise supported. A simple example would be that if a community centre/hall is transferred to a community organisation, some income and other support needs to go with it, to complement the income generation undertaken by the organisation itself. National standards of community engagement Consideration of whether these standards should be mandatory requires different factors to be weighed up. On the one hand, it could be argued that making the standards mandatory would make engagement a greater priority for local authorities. On the other hand, as well as being very difficult to enforce effectively, there is a danger that a local authority s main objective in seeking to meet the standards was a defensive one i.e. to avoid challenge and litigation etc. A new, general duty to engage, backed by renewed emphasis on the national standards as best practice, may be the right direction to go in at this stage. If a general duty to engage were introduced, it would seem sensible and constructive for local authorities to publish and promote their community engagement plans, providing the content of such plans is not the subject of undue prescription. It should be clear to anyone reading the plan what opportunities there are for meaningful engagement with the local authority and exactly how those opportunities can be pursued. Tenants right to manage As suggested above, tenant participation has potentially been given a potential new lease of life by the Charter, and CIH Scotland is playing its part in helping organisations share good practice. It is crucial that accessible opportunities for participation are offered to every tenant and other customers, so that those who wish greater involvement can pursue this with the right support from the landlord. That said, we do not have a sense that there are substantial numbers of tenants who are keen for greater involvement but are finding their landlord being obstructive: in many instances it is more likely to be the case that a keen tenant will have their hand bitten off by a landlord desperate to generate greater input from tenants. Tenants and their representative bodies will have their own views on why the tenants right to manage has not been taken up. It may be that there is a lack of awareness of this right: there is always room for improvement in how landlords inform, involve and support tenants. We might also speculate, however, on the possibility that the great majority of tenants pay rent so that professionals can manage the housing, and with the added assurance that the landlord is statutorily regulated. We are not aware of any evidence that tenants exercising of this right is being hampered and we do not see any need at this stage for further legislation.

6 Community asset transfer The consultation asks under what circumstances it might be appropriate for unused or underused public sector assets to be transferred to individual communities. CIH Scotland would wish to draw attention to the work of the Scottish Government s Capital Finance Working Group and its draft guidance on the Disposal of HRA Assets. This guidance is predicated on the principle that the value of HRA assets must be maximised in order to support the delivery of national housing objectives. This principle will ultimately lead local authorities to the conclusion that in order to realise and maximise financial potential, HRA assets should not be transferred at any less than open market value the understandable intention being to protect the principle of the HRA ring fence and tenant interest. But there is an obvious conflict here with the ethos of community asset transfer and the likelihood of situations where both the council and its tenants want to see something other than maximising income from assets. There may therefore be a case for making a distinction between General Fund and HRA assets. Dangerous and defective buildings CIH Scotland would support any ways of making it easier for local authorities to recover costs from owners where the council has done the work, such as replicating (in the legislation on dangerous buildings) the recharging powers contained within the repairs powers in the Housing (Scotland) Act However, whilst such moves would be welcome, in the current financial climate there may be a limit to how much work councils can afford to pay for up front, with the need to prioritise those works where the risk of accident is greatest. It would seem reasonable and sensible for communities to be able to request that a local authority takes action to deal with a dangerous building. Clearly this would not place an absolute duty on the council to then take that action as that has to be for the council to decide in accordance with its competing priorities and available funding. Compulsory purchase to bring vacant/unused property back into use Again, it would seem reasonable and sensible for communities to have a right to request that a local authority uses a CPO, and again this would then be for the local authority to come to a view on. The possible right for a community to request that they take over property that has been compulsorily purchased by the local authority would seem to be worthy of exploration, but there would appear to be much detail to be addressed in relation to operational implications of the community becoming a landlord. It may also be the case that a barrier here is the likely obligation on the local authority to obtain the highest possible price when disposing of assets.

7 Power to enforce sale or lease of empty property In principle CIH Scotland would be happy to welcome increased powers (but not duties) to enforce the sale or lease of empty property. However, we are not qualified to comment on the detail of the exact circumstances in which these powers should be capable of being exercised. The consultation asks whether, if a local authority enforces the sale of an empty property, the community should have a first right to buy or lease it. CIH Scotland would be inclined to say that an absolute right may be going too far, as the council may have legitimate proposals for its use, but there should be sensible discussions between the council and the community, and the council should seek to meet the community s wishes wherever possible.

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