Modernising Scotland's Social
UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive
Consultation on Modernising Scotland's Social Housing
- UNISON supports the proposals for a Housing Standard to reflect
standards of quality, comfort, energy efficiency, affordability,
accessibility and security.
- Trade unions should be involved in the development of the Housing
Standard given their role in maintaining and implementing the
- We welcome the proposals to apply the prudential borrowing regime
to council housing. This will add some flexibility, but does not
offer solutions to councils burdened with substantial housing
- UNISON supports greater flexibility in set aside rules.
- UNISON rejects the use of PFI and Large Scale Voluntary Transfers
to finance and manage social housing.
- Empowering and properly resourcing local authorities so as they
can use the new powers in the Local Government Act, is a first
step towards addressing housing and wider social and regeneration
UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond
to the Scottish Executive's consultation on Modernising Scotland's
Social Housing. UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
150,000 members working in the public sector. We are the leading
union for housing workers. Our members are employed by Scotland's
local authorities, housing associations, 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, for
example home care workers, social workers, health visitors, etc.
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive on
Modernising Scotland's Social Housing.
Scottish Social Housing Standard
- UNISON welcomes the proposal for a Housing Standard to ensure
that social housing meets the highest standards of quality, comfort
- UNISON believes that accessibility should be included as a key
element. Whilst we recognise it is going to be difficult to meet
accessibility requirements in certain instances, we feel that
it is important that the Housing Standards should incorporate
accessibility requirements given the accessibility needs of the
elderly, families and disabled people. The Executive should aim
to make as much social housing as accessible as possible.
- An affordability element should be included in the Housing Standard.
Affordability is key to social housing. If rent levels are set
too high people on the lowest incomes have difficulties in meeting
payments and become dependent on housing benefits. Research done
by UNISON on a UK wide basis demonstrates that housing association
tenants receive more housing benefit on average than council tenants
because housing association rents are higher. In August 2002 the
average weekly housing benefit payment to a housing association
tenant was £16.10 more than the average weekly housing benefit
payment to a council tenant. Affordability is therefore important
to prevent people from becoming dependent upon the benefit system.
We also believe that all housing development
should be environmentally sustainable.
- The detail in the Housing Standard is generally acceptable.
UNISON is clear that the Social Housing Standard should address
energy efficiency and measures to tackle fuel poverty. The standard
should include the provisions of the 1995 Home Energy Conservation
Act and the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme.
- As noted above other detailed area should include standards
on affordability, and environmental sustainability.
- UNISON believes the quality standards should be set as high
as practicable, to ensure that people are not living in substandard
housing. The criteria set out in the consultation appear to be
acceptable so as people are living in warm, comfortable, healthy
and safe homes.
- We believe that the Housing Standards should refer to the Secured
By Design standard which encourages the building industry to adopt
crime prevention measures to create a safer and more secure environment.
- The availability of resources and training and development for
staff is key to the time scales for meeting the new standards.
Local authorities will require significant additional resources
to improve sub-standard housing, and staff need training and development
in assessing the standard, and support in improving social housing.
Meeting the standard is going to be an ongoing process, as older
housing falls below acceptable levels. Therefore, we believe careful
consideration needs to be given to setting appropriate targets
for meeting the new standard. A rolling target date which is dependent
upon individual local authorities' existing social housing stock,
resources and other local factors is most appropriate.
- As above, interim milestones could include ensuring percentages
of social housing is meeting standards, and putting in place action
plans to comply with the new standard.
- We agree that local authorities should provide details on the
points set out in relation to the standard. However, we believe
there should also be references to availability of staff and resources
to ensure housing meets the standard.
Trade unions should be consulted on the development
of the standard, given our members' key role in maintaining and
implementing social housing standards.
Developing the Standard is clearly a medium to
long term process, and whilst there is an urgency to improve Scotland's
social housing, UNISON is clear that we should not opt for short
term approaches which will place financial burdens on future generations.
The Prudential Regime and Housing Capital Finance
UNISON in general terms welcomes the Executive's
proposals to extend Prudential Borrowing to council housing in Scotland.
The Prudential Borrowing regime will allow a greater
degree of flexibility for councils financing housing investment
from their Major Repairs Allowance or via Arms-Length Management
Organisations, reducing the need for Large Scale Voluntary Transfers
(LSVTs) and PFIs. However there will still be very strong incentives
for councils whose housing stock is in poor condition with high
levels of outstanding debt, maintenance and refurbishment requirements
to consider LSVTs. This is recognised by the Executive, as these
councils' Housing Revenue Accounts will be so heavily committed
to ongoing unavoidable payments that they will face highly restrictive
prudential borrowing limits. Yet no other options to assist these
local authorities with substantial housing debt are offered.
In research for UNISON Scotland, Caledonia University's
Professor Stephen Bailey argues that the prudential borrowing regime
would increase the incentive for councils to raise rents to support
even higher levels of increased investment. This could lead to a
reduction in the Scottish Block grant available to the Scottish
Parliament to spend on other services due to the impact on Housing
Set Aside Rules
UNISON supports greater flexibility on set aside
rules. If local authorities are going to manage all of their debt
it makes sense to do away with rules requiring local authorities
to set aside specific percentages of receipts.
The reporting levels are appropriate, particularly
the long term element giving a 30 year projection, encouraging local
authorities to plan for the medium to long term.
Innovative Approaches to Housing Finance and
UNISON rejects the use of PFI and LSVTs to finance
and manage social housing. We believe that direct investment using
investment allowances to finance borrowing is the simplest, quickest
and most cost effective means of achieving decent social housing.
UNISON position is that social housing should be run by publicly
It is by no means clear that LSVTs are open, transparent,
community-based solutions to financing and managing social housing.
There is evidence that the new Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership
changed its allocations policy without consultation with tenants
or local councillors, clearly contradicting the community-ownership
UNISON's evidence, as noted above, is that LSVTs
are a long-term tax liability, in that housing association tenants
receive more housing benefit on average than council tenants, creating
an increasing tax burden. Whilst the prudential borrowing regime
gives more options to councils that can afford to take them, UNISON
believes direct investment in dilapidated housing stock is required
in local authority areas with substantial debt burden.
Improving the links between housing and regeneration
UNISON welcomes the Minister's proposals to better
co-ordinate housing investment and regeneration. We agree that housing
cannot be divorced from wider social issues. The real challenge
for the Scottish Parliament and Executive is to find the resources
to build better homes and create inclusive societies. In UNISON's
view this is best done by properly funded local authorities, directly
accountable to local communities.
Social provision and health care, along with leisure,
childcare and community facilities are linked to the provision of
decent safe housing. People are entitled to live in a environment
which is safe and free from crime and fear of crime. Minority ethnic
communities and other groups in society should be able to live in
an atmosphere which is free from racial harassment and abuse and
discrimination. UNISON is clear that housing policies must be developed
which deal not only with the provisions of housing, but which also
take account of the social needs of tenants whilst protecting the
rights of the individual.
Community Planning, along with other provisions
in the Local Government Act - the Power to Advance Well Being, and
Best Value - will be important drivers to implementing the Housing
Standard, modernising social housing, and addressing the social
and community issues noted above. However, UNISON believes that
stock transfer or partial stock transfer will not solve the problems
of Scotland's poor housing stock, nor address social issues.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835
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