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As part of Scottish Housing Day, this exclusive Q&A with the Chief Executive of the Scottish Housing Regulator looks at how social landlords responded to Covid-19, and what the future holds for Scotland.
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How have you rated the response of social landlords to Covid-19?
Overall, we’ve seen social landlords work hard to quickly adapt to the immediate challenges of Covid-19 and take action to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their tenants, people who are homeless and other service users.
Six months on, social landlords are now beginning to face new and emerging serious challenges stemming from wider impacts of the pandemic and uncertainty ahead remains. Those include the challenges associated with restarting services.
Our July dashboard showed that the number of empty homes let by social landlords was up on the previous month by more than 76%, including an increase of around 28% in lets to people who are homeless. An important development, not least because of the large number of people currently in temporary accommodation and waiting for a permanent home.
Social landlords will need to continue to be able to adapt and respond as these challenging issues emerge and the longer term impacts of the pandemic begin to become clearer.
What has really stuck out for you in the past few months?
We’ve seen that landlords have adapted quickly, using their knowledge of their tenants and local communities to respond to their most urgent needs. Social landlords were amongst the first on to the frontline in local communities to support people through the challenges of the early days of lockdown.
Some have quickened the pace of moves to digital delivery and have found new ways to support their staff to do what is needed and to engage with their tenants.
How has it been being part of the Scottish Housing Resilience Group and would you like it to continue post-Covid?
The Social Housing Resilience Group was an important forum to help coordinate the immediate response to the pandemic, and to provide landlords with guidance and advice on how to respond to the pandemic and on how to restart services.
At the outset of the lockdown, we immediately shifted our approach to focus on monitoring and reporting on the impact of Covid-19 on social landlords.
We’ve provided the SHRG with regular reports to help it in its work. We will continuing to monitor and report on the impact of the pandemic and work with the SHRG and the Scottish Government to help respond to the impacts of the pandemic, and we will do that for as long as it is necessary.
What should Scottish landlords should look at going forward?
In the coming months, social landlords will be focusing on the medium to longer term, planning for the coming years and thinking about what lessons to take forward from the last six months.
We know that over the years, social housing has been amongst the most progressive and innovative sectors in Scotland, with a track record of rising to meet challenges it has faced.
Agility, responsiveness and effective communication are likely to be increasingly important as landlords work to return to full services and as they adapt to the world that emerges from this pandemic.
And the impact of Covid-19 has shown clearly that building and testing organisational resilience and capacity to handle unexpected events will be even more critical elements of business planning and risk management.
What does the SHR expects from its landlords in the coming months?
We recently published a statement on the changes we’ve made to our regulatory approach to support the Covid-19 response.
We made the changes after consultation with landlords, tenants, people who are homeless, other service users and lenders.
They include giving landlords more time to submit their Annual Assurance Statements and more time to report to their tenants on their performance against the standards and outcomes of the Scottish Social Housing Charter.
And we published new guidance on completing the Annual Assurance Statements and Business Planning, to support landlords to plan in the context of the pandemic.
We hope the changes and supported guidance help provide clarity for landlords and tenants and service users around how we will regulate in the coming months.
More information about the temporary changes and the guidance is available on our website www.housingregulator.gov.scot