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Sarah Boyack: Housing is in with the bricks of the Scottish Government’s Programme for Scotland

A blog by SFHA Head of Public Affairs, Sarah Boyack.

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We’re half way through this parliamentary term and while the headline investment in 50,000 homes is crucial to meet housing needs, it’s important we don’t forget about investing in existing homes too.  SFHA is keen that legislation on planning, fuel poverty and fire safety is informed by the experiences of housing associations and tenants.

We also need to see better support for tenants, through mitigating the impact of welfare changes, supporting people to sustain their tenancies, and investment in adaptations that will help maintain people’s health and well-being.

Unsurprisingly,  there were no new announcements in relation to investment in new social housing in the First Minister’s Programme for Scotland speech, but housing did get several mentions.

These included a commitment to respond to all the HARSAG recommendations by the end of the year; the importance of the new Scottish National Investment Bank, due to be up and running by 2020; reference to housing associations in relation to the Building Scotland Fund, which is intended to support the development of housing across all tenures; and the ongoing investment in affordable housing, including the specific commitment to building 35,000 houses for social rent.

No new housing legislation was proposed in the  speech, but there are already several Bills making their way through Parliament  which will be discussed this autumn. 

SFHA has been lobbying Ministers and MSPs on behalf of members:

  • Planning Bill: we want to see  housing targets included and access to affordable land and infrastructure provision seen as  essential;
  • Fuel Poverty Bill: we want to see an accurate definition on rural fuel poverty and and for housing associations to be able to access Scottish Government funding on energy efficiency investment; and
  • Fire Safety: we want to see changes to fire safety in relation to the call for sprinklers to be installed for all new social housing properties and higher standards of reporting in relation to building control requirements.

We’ve supported Scottish Government representations to the Communities and Local Government Committee arguing that secondary legislation to reclassify the status of housing associations - critical to ensuring long term investment in social housing projects - be approved by the Scottish Parliament as soon as is possible in September, hopefully in time to enable the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to rubber stamp reclassification this autumn. 

Finally, we are waiting for clarity on Freedom Of Information. We understand that while the intention of the Scottish Government is to proceed with extending Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation to RSLs, due to continuing consideration of issues raised in consultation, including the timing of the order, the proposed commencement date of 1 April 2019 is no longer considered feasible in allowing sufficient time for RSLs to prepare for designation. 

There are other issues which we will be working on during the autumn where we need to make an impact. While the Scottish Government has made a commitment to an Older People’s Framework by March 2019, the issue of funding for adaptations and access to care to support people to return home from hospital or to be looked after at home are key issues where our members need action.

While SFHA has invested in work with the Housing Support Enabling Unit (HSEU) and iHub, as well as work to promote the health and well-being benefits delivered by our members, there is still much more which needs to be done by new Health and Social Care Partnerships across the country.

Other issues in which housing associations and co-operatives will have an interest are commitments on infrastructure – specifically access to broadband for every home in Scotland and the rollout of electric vehicle charging for homes and businesses. We’ll be arguing for a higher profile for the housing sector in training and for City Deals to factor in the need for investment in affordable social housing.

Finally, it was good to see reference to the need for certainty on post-2021 investment so that housing associations and co-operatives can plan ahead. Our recent evidence of progress towards the 50,000 new homes target shows that we need more accessible housing, and that there is still a huge demand for affordable, quality homes across the country.

In the months ahead, SFHA will continue making the case for long-term investment in affordable housing by demonstrating the added value our members provide. This is not only to their tenants but also to the wider community, benefiting the wider economy and providing vital employment opportunities.

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