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Better Homes for Scotland's Communities

The Executive's Proposals for the Housing Bill

UNISON Scotland Response

1. Introduction

2. Foreword by Minister for Communities

3. A new single social tenancy
Rights of Succession
Extending the Right to Buy

4. Scottish Homes
Protections for Staff
Equal Opportunities

5. The Strategic Role of Authorities
Strategic Role
Single local housing plans
Mass Stock Transfer / `Community Ownership'
Tenants' Consent to Stock Transfer

6. Homelessness and Housing Management

7. Improvement and Repair Grant

8. Other Issues



· UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the publication Better Homes for Scotland's Communities: The Executive's Proposals for the Housing Bill

· UNISON Scotland is the main union for housing workers. Our members are employed by Scotland's local authorities, housing associations, housing co-operatives and housing companies. In addition many thousands of our members work in partnership with housing staff to provide vital services to the community.



· UNISON Scotland shares the intention of Communities Minister Wendy Alexander MSP that "Every community should provide a range of good-quality, secure housing options". We have a fundamental disagreement, however, on how to achieve this goal.

· The proposals outlined in the document are based on the Scottish Executive's policy of mass stock transfer of housing from the local government sector. We believe this policy narrows rather than widens the "range" of options open to communities.



Rights of Succession

· UNISON Scotland welcomed the clear statement in the Scottish Executive's earlier publication, A New Single Social Housing Tenancy for Scotland: Rights, Obligations and Opportunities, that the right of tenancy succession under the new single tenancy would extend to a same-sex partner (page 19 of that earlier publication). The current consultation document does not explicitly state this, but it does refer to cohabiting couples in general in two contexts: paragraph 14 and the table, on page 15, refer to the tenancy succession rights of cohabitees, and section 6 of the table on page 25 refers to the right to buy arrangements for cohabiting couples.

· The rights set out in the Housing Bill for the new single tenancy, concerning succession of tenancy and right to buy, should apply equally to cohabiting couples of mixed sex and cohabiting couples of the same sex. There is no question that to deny tenancy succession rights to same-sex partners would quite unnecessarily cause very great distress and hardship to real people, at a time when, with the loss of a partner, they are at their most vulnerable.

Extending the Right to Buy

· UNISON Scotland is strongly opposed to any extension of the right to buy to existing housing association tenants.

· An extension of the policy will have the consequence of reducing the amount of social housing available for rent. This will have a particular impact on rural communities and on certain inner city areas such as Partick and central Edinburgh. It will result in less choice and less diversity of tenure.

· In the new single tenancy the provision for a core right to repair is welcome and the requirement on all landlords to provide and maintain properties in a state which is wind and water tight is supported. UNISON Scotland believes that this is no more than tenants should have at present and we would wish to see this supported by a tenants' right to take landlords to court if they fail to deliver this basic need.



Protections for Staff

· UNISON Scotland welcomes the commitment in the document that staff will be protected in any transfer from Scottish Homes.

· This must include the protection of all jobs, pay and conditions of Scottish Homes staff including protection of their pension entitlement.

· It should also include protection of rights for consultation, representation and negotiation for recognised trade unions.

Equal Opportunities

· UNISON Scotland notes that the new Executive Agency will also have other responsibilities relating to development of good practice, advising local authorities and promoting community regeneration. This is obviously a pivotal role, and it is crucial therefore that the encouragement of equal opportunities is key principle for the new Agency, just as it is for the Parliament and Executive themselves, and just as the McIntosh report, Local Government and The Scottish Parliament, recommends (paragraph 24) it should be for local authorities. The Housing Bill should place the new Executive Housing Agency under a statutory duty to encourage equal opportunities, with the definition of equal opportunities taken from section L2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. There is a precedent for such a duty in the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 (sections 5(2) and 5(3). We note the proposal on page 42 that there will be a Code of Practice for the Regulator. The Code of Practice for the Housing Regulator should reiterate the need to encourage equal opportunities, but this should not substitute for a statutory duty to encourage, in the Bill itself.



Strategic Role

· UNISON Scotland is concerned about the lack detail in this section other than to present some incentives for local authorities in terms of control of local budgets. Other references to `strategic roles' are vague and, unless clarified, could lead to potential clashes in policy between the local authority and the proposed new regulatory body.

Single local housing plans

· UNISON Scotland believes that the Housing Bill should require that local authorities' housing plans contain a statement of the ways in which they consider that their plan will encourage equal opportunities, as defined in section L2 of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. There is a direct model for such a planning duty in sections 5(2) and 5(3) of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000.

Mass Stock Transfer / `Community Ownership'

· UNISON Scotland believes that a policy of mass stock transfer, or so-called `community ownership', is unnecessary and damaging for the following reasons:

· it is an expensive and unnecessary means of resolving the investment crisis in public housing stock

· it will lead to less democratic accountability

· it will destabilise local communities

· it will result in less diversity in housing tenure

· it may lead to increased social exclusion

· it will, over time, lead to an increase in rents

· and it will inevitably have a detrimental impact on the jobs, pay and conditions of local government housing staff

· UNISON Scotland believes that tenants should be able to makes real choices about the future management and maintenance of their homes - with the maximum possible information available to them.

· Where housing stock transfers have been proposed tenants are being told there is no alternative means of securing the necessary investment within a reasonable timescale. This is not true.

· UNISON Scotland would suggest that an alternative approach be considered based upon Local Housing Quasi-Corporations:

· This would ring-fence the housing account within the local authority.

· A corporation could borrow money based on an effective business plan and on the regular income and asset base of the housing stock, but with no recourse to the general assets of the authority.

· This is the cheapest alternative funding solution for investment.

· Residents would benefit from capital investment without the uncertainties of a new landlord.

· The local authority would retain ownership, control, and retain its own nomination/allocation policies.

· This is the only option which guarantees the retention of jobs, incomes and training opportunities for the existing workforce.

· The existing debt should be written-off by the Scottish Executive.

· It is in line with best value practice, and would allow improvements in management and closer tenant involvement in an environment of co-operation, trust & security.

· Tenants should retain their secure tenancies and other rights.

· There would be guaranteed benefits for tenants, council taxpayers and Scottish taxpayers.

Tenants' Consent to Stock Transfer

· UNISON Scotland notes that the ballot to decide on stock transfer will be determined by a `majority of those who vote'.

· We would request that before any ballot is held that tenants are given the opportunity of hearing both the case for and against transfer and that mechanisms be put in place to have equal funding for both the "yes" and "no" campaigns. It is surely in the interests of democracy and fairness that tenants hear both sides before they cast their ballot.


· UNISON Scotland welcomes the proposal that DLOs will be able to tender for work previously outwith their remit for a "wider range of registered social landlords". However we are concerned about the lack of freedom this affords DLOs. From our reading of the proposals it appears that DLOs will not have any opportunity to participate in new-build projects and that these will remain exclusive to the private sector.

· UNISON Scotland is concerned that the document offers little in the way of reassurance for DLO staff and it would appear that the current offer of a three year contract is no more than a three-year notice for much of the workforce.



· UNISON Scotland notes that the document suggests the intention to transfer homeless provision responsibilities from local authorities to Registered Social Landlords (RSLs). This is a radical step but one which is potentially seriously misguided. There appears to be little thought given to the policing of such a policy and experience suggests that a `localising' of homeless responsibilities is likely to lead to communication problems both between RSLs and RSLs and support services, a serious reluctance to genuinely deal with more difficult cases in need of relocation, and importantly provides real problems with any attempt at operating a fair and uniformed authority-wide allocations policy.

· UNISON Scotland is doubtful from the evidence provided in the document that the Executive is aware of the scale of the chaos that could ensue from this proposed change in legislation. It would also be interesting to investigate how this change would impact on current cross-border arrangements with authorities in England and Wales. We note that the issue of asylum-seekers and local authority responsibilities in this area is not addressed.

· UNISON Scotland believes that the proposals regarding the needs of the homeless should also address the issue of housing quality. It is not enough to provide a home: the quality of the home and the sustainability of standards must also be considered. The running costs of the home, especially those relating to the cost of domestic fuel, are important factors in maintaining any new tenancy.



· On improvement and repair grants, the proposals suggest a widening of the current measures which can be funded under the improvement and repair grant system, but does not indicate how this will be supported or financed. UNISON Scotland would like to see this become a statutory grant rather than discretionary as at present. We would also wish monies to be ring fenced in each authority area so that all home owners across Scotland have equal right of access to the grant.



· UNISON Scotland believes that the Bill should contain specific reference to eliminating fuel poverty, together with detailed proposals for improving domestic energy efficiency. Support and resources for local authorities to allow them to meet their responsibilities under the Home Energy Conservation Act (HECA) and in their role of working with new Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) should also be included.

· Quality of homes throughout the Bill is seen as being implicit rather than explicit. UNISON Scotland believes that the Bill should contain specific proposals relating to quality. We call for a minimum Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) rating of 20 for all dwellings and a detailed plan of work to address the worst homes first.

· The consultation paper does not address the need to licence the private rented sector, choosing instead to allow self-regulation. UNISON Scotland believes that, as the worst housing stock has been shown to be in the private rented sector, only regulation will address the problems of poor housing conditions in this sector. In the Keeping Scotland Warm proposals, UNISON Scotland and Energy Action Scotland (EAS) call for the licensing of the private rented sector and seek the appointment of the local authority as the regulating body. We also ask that all landlords who have more than 150 properties be required to submit HECA reports to their local authority in order to gauge and encourage improvement in house conditions within the private rented as well as other social rented sectors.

· Anyone moving home should know the financial liabilities beyond that of mortgage or rent payment. Sustainability of ownership or tenancy should be supported through the introduction of an energy survey which would give exact details of the energy efficiency of the dwelling, including the costs associated with heating and other domestic fuel use. The NHER scale of energy rating should be used to support this. Such a survey should be undertaken each time a house is sold, as part of the standard property survey.


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