The Scottish Housing Regulator’s current consultation on reforms to the regulation of social landlords in Scotland has sparked controversy within the sector (see for example, recent articles in the Glasgow Herald and Inside Housing, and briefing papers by the community housing sector).
The biggest moot point is over plans to introduce a mandatory fixed-term for committee members (who make up landlords’ governing bodies). This change is especially problematic for small, community-based housing associations (a dominant governance model in the west of Scotland), because their management committees are drawn from ordinary local residents. The passion, commitment and local knowledge of these individuals, combined with the partnerships they forge with local housing staff have been central to the success of this governance model; and the skills and experience these community leaders develop over the years is invaluable. That the Regulator wants to consign this to the scrap-heap is sad indeed, especially when most committee members are already subject to regular, open elections. A second related concern is the proposal to pay governing body members. This not only contradicts the ethos of volunteering and place based social capital that underpins the community housing sector in Scotland, but seeks to introduce a ‘private sector’ governance model which is inappropriate for community organisations, many of whom are also registered charities. There seems to be a real tension between the Regulator’s desire for ‘professional’ boards and the benefits of community governance through the community ownership of social housing.
Beyond this immediate issue, the consultation also sparks questions about how much is too much regulation? There have long been concerns that housing associations are over-regulated compared to other independent, third sector organisations. Whilst housing association do receive financial support from the public purse does that mean the Regulator should be able to dictate the terms of their constitution, or how they govern themselves? Or would the regulatory gaze not be better directed on the Private Rented Sector which is where the real rogue landlords are to be found? Answers on a postcard …..
(for further discussion of mandatory terms see the excellent paper by GWSF )