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Message from Sally Thomas, SFHA Chief Executive

Message for SFHA members.

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It’s hard to believe that a month ago, most of us were working – and living – more or less as usual. Work and life as we know them have changed dramatically because of the coronavirus crisis. Every housing association and co-operative in the country has had to change the way they do things, while ensuring tenants and customers continue to get the services and support needed, now more than ever.  
Housing associations have been on the front line of the crisis, supporting tenants and communities to adjust to the huge challenges they now face. Stepping up the commitment to people and places that’s always been there, the country’s housing associations are working extra hard to keep people safe and supported in their homes, continuing to deliver vital services and helping communities to pull together.   
Our role at SFHA is to help you to do just this, supporting people and the places they live in but now at a time of crisis, fear, stress and uncertainty.   
Providing leadership across the sector has been the starting point. Following conversations with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Housing Regulator, we brought together the Social Housing Resilience Group to ensure national level responses to local level needs. Key issues for the group include personal protection equipment (PPE), lettings protocols, homelessness, gas safety, key workers, humanitarian support and sector income reduction. You can find out more about the group by emailing Head of Business Services Sara Jackson sjackson@sfha.co.uk We update on the group’s work in our weekly e-newsletter and on our social media channels. And the group is actively looking at ways to connect in more of the sector to get the quickest and best intelligence from the ground. 
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act introduces new emergency powers, including adjustments to the law regarding evictions for social housing tenants. While we agree with evictions being suspended for those experiencing financial hardship caused by the coronavirus outbreak, it is crucial that the Scottish Government considers the possible effect this may have on housing associations and co-operatives. We have alerted the government to the likelihood of financial support in the wake of the almost inevitable impact on income that will result from the crisis. It’s also important that tenants who are able to still pay their rent do so, and I know the sector will continue to do everything it can to provide services that help to enable this.   
We know that housing associations and co-operatives have concerns and questions about gas safety inspections and maintenance during the outbreak, and this is an issue we have been raising with both the UK and Scottish Governments. Since this is a reserved matter, together with the other UK housing federations, the Chartered Institute of Housing, National Federation of Almos, and the Association of Retained Council Housing, we wrote to Sarah Albon, Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to press for a six-month extension to the annual gas safety inspections, giving leeway of 18 months. Related issues we are seeking clarity on are what social landlords should do if there are no available gas engineers to perform statutory gas safety checks due to coronavirus, if there is a lack of PPE equipment, and what to do if landlords can’t access a property for 12 weeks due to a tenant self-isolating. On Tuesday 7 April, HSE published guidance which maintains their position that landlords should continue to attempt to carry out checks currently as well as suggested scenarios for working with specific groups e.g. those who are self-isolating. We are continuing to engage with both governments on this issue and will provide an update as soon as we can.     
We have also produced a series of briefing notes to help housing associations and co-operatives navigate the crisis. These have included health and safety, service delivery, governance, and care and support. We will be releasing more briefings shortly as well as updating them as, and when, there are developments. If you have suggestions for subjects we should cover, or have any feedback on those published so far, please Sara contact sjackson@sfha.co.uk    
Many of you are already active on the forum we have set up on Microsoft Teams for members to discuss the outbreak, ask questions, and share advice and information. The invitation to the forum was originally open to member CEOs, but we have now extended it to other staff from member organisations. If you haven’t yet joined, or would like a colleague to join, please email SFHA Membership Engagement Co-ordinator Gillian Duddy gduddy@sfha.co.uk    
The forum provides an excellent platform for staying on top of the latest developments as well as to share and find solutions, but you will also find a summary of key updates on our dedicated COVID-19 page. Our new weekly e-newsletter – Housing Scotland Weekly – brings together the latest information, and we are issuing Breaking News e-bulletins when there are important developments.    
At SFHA, we have also had to completely rethink and re-focus the way we do things to ensure we give you, our members, the support you need at this time. In essence, this has meant business re-orientation, so we focus on the most important issues to you, and identifying the best ways to stay connected. This has meant introducing a number of digital platforms which enable us to find out what you need and then delivering it.    
It’s not only our current working practices that have gone digital – our events have also. While we have had to postpone our events and conferences programme, we have been organising a series of webinars that will help you, and your staff, to navigate the current situation. There will be webinars next week on Beyond the crisis – what next’ and the Government furlough scheme. You will find upcoming webinars in the training section of our website.  
I hope you are finding the support, information, and guidance that we are providing helpful. If you have any feedback, please get in touch.   
Finally, in the last couple of weeks, if there is one thing that has been understood and appreciated more than ever, it is the absolute and fundamental importance of a safe, warm, secure and affordable home. The country’s housing associations provide some of the best in the country, and this has never been more important than now.   

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