3. Impact of the Current Charter
Question 1: Do you think the quality of landlord services has improved because of the Charter? Please explain your answer and provide examples.
3.1 94 respondents answered this question with 89 providing a clear indication of whether or not they considered the quality of landlord services has improved as a result of the Charter. Of these, 59 (66%) considered that the quality of landlord services has improved because of the Charter. 17 respondents (19%) thought that the Charter has not improved the quality of such services. 13 respondents (15%) had mixed views or were not sure whether or not the Charter had impacted on quality of landlord services. A further five respondents provided general commentary without indicating whether or not the Charter had resulted in improvements to landlord services. Table 3.1 in Annex 2 provides a breakdown of views by respondent category.
3.2 Organisations were more likely than individuals to report positive impacts of the Charter on the quality of landlord services, with 73% holding this view compared with 52% of individuals.
Views on ways in which the Charter has improved the quality of landlord services
3.3 Respondents identified six key ways in which they considered that the Charter has improved the quality of landlord services.
The Charter has improved the communication between landlords and tenants
3.4 26 respondents across six different respondent categories identified improved communications between landlords and tenants as an impact of the Charter. Some commented that the Charter provided the impetus for a fresh and renewed approach to communication, with tenant participation encouraged through new opportunities to become involved. Communication was viewed as more meaningful than previously, for example, surveys with tenants were better planned and their findings taken into account by landlords. One individual reported that they are now represented by an active RTO and regularly take part in focus groups run by their landlord.
Rosehill Housing Co-operative Limited:
"The Charter has helped us manage tenants' expectations better and a good example of this is in relation to the development of improved Lettable Standards for Void Properties. We experienced low levels of satisfaction amongst new tenants with the condition of their home when they first moved in. Our comprehensive Satisfaction Survey of 2013 showed that only 58% of new tenants were satisfied with their home. Over the past 18 months we have engaged with new tenants to understand better what their expectations were in relation to the condition of their new home. During this period we also worked closely with our Tenants' Group to develop Lettable Standards for publication. Our latest comprehensive Tenant Satisfaction Survey (carried out in July 2016) has shown a significant improvement in the satisfaction levels of new tenants with 85% now being satisfied with the condition of their home when they moved in."
The Charter has made landlords more accountable for their service quality
3.5 25 respondents across six different respondent categories considered that the Charter has provided an open and transparent framework for monitoring and comparing quality of service. They welcomed what they perceived to be the clarity of the system which enables easier benchmarking of service quality across RSLs and over time. Improvements in data gathering and robustness of data were identified.
"The Scottish Housing Regulator ( SHR) has used the Charter as a basis for its regulatory approach and to develop indicators. This has resulted in the production of comparable information on social landlord performance. Social landlords and customers have been able to access this information to inform service improvements. For example, the Link Tenant Scrutiny Panel has referred to Charter outcomes and indicators in its scrutiny reports on communication, repairs and gas servicing."
East Lothian Council:
"We think that the Charter has helped us to focus on the outcomes that we need to deliver, the importance of performance information and on being accountable to our tenants. We can also now do meaningful comparisons and benchmark with other social landlords to a greater and more robust standard. The Charter has therefore helped us to enhance our services."
The Charter has generally led to improved quality of service
3.6 23 respondents across all seven respondent categories identified general improvements to landlord services as a result of the Charter. Examples provided included more money spent on improvements; repairs attended to promptly; and speedier re-letting of voids.
The Charter has prompted greater focus on key tenant priorities
3.7 16 respondents across six different respondent categories considered that as a result of the Charter, social landlords were more aware of, and focused on, key priorities for tenants.
3.8 Individual respondents reported that their needs were reflected to a greater extent in the strategies of their landlord, with the Charter highlighting areas that require improvement.
3.9 RSLs commented that the Charter had helped them identify key aspects of service delivery which would lead to customer satisfaction.
The Charter has encouraged tenant-led scrutiny
3.10 10 respondents across five different respondent categories described tenants as being more engaged in the scrutiny process in a meaningful way, leading to positive changes to service.
The Charter has helped social landlords to plan more effectively
3.11 Four respondents, all from different respondent categories, considered that the Charter has helped landlords plan their services better. RSLs were seen as being more aware of prioirities and able to provide explanations where outcomes are not reached.
Aberdeen City Council:
"One example has been around the re-balancing of Emergency and Non-Emergency work as well as the first time fixes and appointment regime. Given the improvement in our performance this year we feel that there has been a positive outcome for our customers with quicker repairs being achieved and more appointments being kept."
Views of those perceiving the Charter to have had no impact on the quality of landlord services
3.12 Two common themes emerged amongst those questioning the Charter's positive impact on quality of services. Firstly, some considered that as social landlords they were already performing well and would have continued to strive for improvement whether or not the Charter was in place. They reported that other factors drive service improvement such as internal and external benchmarking; efficiency reviews; audits; and customer complaints.
3.13 Secondly, there was a view amongst a few respondents that the Charter does not have the clarity, nor the teeth, to drive service improvement. Some felt that the Charter was open to interpretation which has led to patchy application. It was suggested that unscrupulous landlords could manipulate surveys and focus groups by selective or deliberate misrepresentation of findings.
3.14 Five TRGs considered that there was still more work to be done on encouraging social landlords to engage with and listen to their tenants in a face-to-face context; one individual perceived tenants to remain excluded from influencing key issues such as capital expenditure.
Question 2: Does the way the Charter is reported on help you judge whether landlords are meeting the Charter outcomes and standards? Please explain your answer.
3.15 81 respondents answered this question with 77 providing a clear indication of their view on whether the way the Charter is reported on has helped them to judge whether landlords are meeting the Charter outcomes and standards. Of these 45 (56%) considered that the reporting of the Charter has been beneficial in this respect. 23 respondents (30%) did not think that the reporting of the Charter had helped them judge whether landlords are meeting the Charter outcomes and standards; and 9 respondents (12%) had mixed views. A further 4 respondents provided general commentary without being clear on whether the reporting of the Charter helped them judge. Table 3.2 in Annex 2 provides a breakdown of views by respondent category.
3.16 There was little difference between organisation and invidual views overall in terms of the percentage of respondents who thought that the Charter reporting helps judge whether landlords are meeting the Charter outcomes and standards. A greater proportion of organisations had mixed views, however, with several identifying benefits to the way reporting is undertaken but also identifying ways to improve this.
3.17 RSLs and their representatives were least likely to perceive the way the Charter is reported on as helping with judgement of whether landlords are meeting the Charter outcomes and standards, with nine of the 12 who provided a view having mixed views or perceiving the reporting of the Charter as not providing help with judging the performance of landlords.
Views of those who thought that the way the Charter is reported helps with judgement of landlords' performance
3.18 11 of the 13 local authorities were amongst those who stated explicitly that the reporting of the Charter enabled comparisons to be made across landlords, providing landlords and tenants alike with information required to challenge poor performance and identify areas for improvement
3.19 Tenants were reported as welcoming the information also.
Tenant Participation Advisory Service Scotland:
"…many tenants like the tenant report card and the access to more information if they want it. Tenants like to be able to compare their landlord's services with others through the Housemark and SHR comparison tools. Many tenants have been instrumental with their landlord in determining the quality and content of information on how their landlord is performing."
3.20 A few respondents commented that comparisons were now meaningful as they were based around issues of importance to tenants. The information was viewed as easy to understand and presented in a clear manner.
Views of those who thought that the way the Charter is reported does not help with judgement of landlords' performance
Issues around validity of data
3.21 One key issue raised was that the information provided by social landlords to the SHR may not be valid, for example, may not be representative of tenants' views, may have been manipulated by the landlord or may be inaccurate. A recurring view was that self-reporting by landlords may not be the most reliable method to obtain robust data.
3.22 Examples were provided of how landlords might use percentages rather than absolute numbers in order to mask low response rates amongst tenants. Some respondents felt that tenants' views could be portrayed as prevailing whereas in reality they may have been provided by only a small number of tenants. Questions were raised over the validity of satisfaction surveys designed, analysed and reported by landlords. Some felt there was little evidence to date that tenants are being involved in verifying information submitted by landlords to the SHR.
Views on lack of contextual information
3.23 Another common theme was that the data reported does not present the context in which different landlords are operating and therefore the picture gained from statistical data does not provide the whole story. Examples were given of local circumstances and priorities impacting on performance statistics which could suggest weaker performance from a landlord compared with another in more favourable circumstances. Some influences were viewed as out of the landlord's control.
Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association:
"The Charter does not always sit very well in the context of the strategic and operational delivery of the services. There are core services where we have complete control which is relatively straightforward. And then there are areas of service where we must work with others e.g. local authorities which is more complex….."
3.24 A rural/urban dimension emerged with some commenting on the different contextual challenges faced in rural areas such as greater travel time and costs, and the likelihood of landlords in rural areas being compared unfavourably against others in urban areas
Views on limited usefulness to tenants
3.25 Related to the previous issue was the view of several TRGs in particular, that the way the Charter is reported on is meaningless as comparisons between landlords may not be like-for like. Others cautioned that many tenants are ignorant of the Charter or knew of it but did not understand how performance was reported and how to access the information.
Improvements suggested by respondents
3.26 Many respondents (largely RSLs and TRGs) made suggestions for improvements in the way the Charter is reported. The most frequently mentioned are presented below:
- More work is required to make tenants aware of the Charter and its reporting.
- Ways of making the information easier for tenants to access should be developed such as enabling online access to the data and explaining acronyms.
- Comparative information should be available across peer groups ( e.g. landlords with similar stock; age of stock; locality).
- Qualitative and contextual information is required to support the statistical data collected, for example, providing details of type of stock, age of stock.