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Examining the impact of Covid-19 on Scotland's housing associations

By Shona Mitchell, SFHA Policy Lead.

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SFHA is today publishing a report bringing together the various data collections on the impact of Covid-19 on housing associations in Scotland. 

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has led to significant changes for our sector due to its impact on the economy and society as a whole. And the impact is only starting to become apparent with effects expected to be with us for years to come. 

Our sector is doing all it can to support tenants during the crisis, whilst also having one eye to the future as we are aware we will play an important role in the economic recovery of the country. 

It is with this long-term view in mind that SFHA took the decision to collect data quarterly on the impact of Covid-19 from members to allow us to identify and track trends in the months ahead. As much as is possible, the data we are asking members for complements what is already being asked for by other organisations such as the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) HouseMark. 

This report compares the data collected by SFHA, covering the pre-Covid-19 January to March 2020 period, with available data from the SHR, from the monthly returns it has issued since April to help it to understand the impact of coronavirus on landlords' services, and HouseMark's data from its monthly Covid-19 impact monitoring work which also began in April. 

The SFHA return for April-June is currently with members, with a deadline of 31 August. 

A number of changes have been made to our original return as a result of the SHR decision to make the data from its returns available on a landlord-by-landlord basis which was not its original intention. 

At SFHA, the data collected will be used alongside that available elsewhere to identify and track any trends and take any action required as a result. If particular concerns are identified, this data will give us the evidence we need to make a case to government for action or support for our sector in tackling it. 

SFHA intends to continue collecting this data into 2021 as we remain in very uncertain times. Until the emergency measures, such as the Job Retention Scheme, in particular, come to an end, it will be difficult to know how many tenants might face loss of income or unemployment. This brings with it the potential for substantial reductions in rental income. We already know wider economic shocks have a disproportionate impact on social housing tenants, many of whom are in precarious employment or work in sectors where it is not possible to work from home. 

We also hope the data will begin to identify changes in the sector which are positive. For example, by tracking data on overheads, we hope to be able to determine the impact that moving to home working has on office costs etc. 

Figures from this first analysis of available data shows initial assumptions were correct in so far as rent arrears have increased, surpluses have risen due to drops in spend on repairs/maintenance/development and staff sickness levels have increased. 

Given the period covered in the SFHA return included only the very early stages of the crisis, it will be data from future returns which will allow us to assess the true consequences for staff and resources, to assess the support received from grant funding during the crisis and its impact, and to understand the level of increase in tenants receiving support with housing costs. 

Our future returns will also allow us to monitor the costs of emergency repairs and determine whether costs have increased as a result of the pandemic. If this is to be the case, we can work with members and sector partners to consider solutions. 

It’s early days both in terms of the impacts of Covid-19 and our data collection, but we hope members will continue to work with us by supporting these returns to allow us the best evidence possible in terms of the support and lobbying we can provide for the sector as a whole. 

For further information, or to take part if you have not already, please email me at smitchell@sfha.co.uk  

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