ETF Housing Blog

Feedback from Chartered Institute of Housing Conference

Terry Kirby, Chair, Wharton Square Residents Association attended the Chartered Institute of Housing Conference held in Edinburgh in March. Here he gives his recollection of the main points discussed at the Conference.

The theme of this year’s Conference wasHomes not Houses’. Home is where you are safe. However what if you are forced to leave your home behind and start again in a new country? Sabir Zazai, Chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council talked about leaving Afghanistan and the reality of starting a new life here in Scotland.

70 million people from different countries flee their home country and leave everything behind. 50% are women and children seeking asylum which can take up a year and a half to gain acceptance of granted status. During this time there is no choice of accommodation. When Sabir was granted asylum status he was given 28 days to find a home, which he did and moved in with no furnishings. When his electricity stopped for a few days; he did not understand why this had happened or what he should do. Eventually he found out that he had a card meter, something he had never heard of before or how to use it.

The message is clear that the Government need to invest in integration, equally and fairly in the community. There are success stories of asylum seekers who have started businesses; having sought and secured loans and who are contributing to the local community.

The workshop on Universal Credit (UC) was discussed by:

  • Deborah Hay, Scotland policy officer, Joseph Rowntree Foundation;
  • Bill Scott, Chair of Scottish Government Poverty Commission;
  • David Ben-Aryeah, tenant representative Dunedin Canmore Housing (DCH).

Reduce poverty and inequality in Scotland by 2030 was a loud and clear message. The main points raised in the presentation were:

  • 24% of children are living in poverty after housing costs;
  • 22% of families are in absolute poverty;
  • 14% of families with combined income are in poverty;
  • 17% of families are living in persistent poverty;
  • UC is travelling in the wrong direction as all these figures are up from last year and will continue to rise to one in three families living in poverty;
  • 1 million working families are £1,600 per year worse off;
  • Single parents aged between 16-24 are worse off;
  • Disabled people or disabled households are £4,000 per year worse off;
  • Digital default is a problem, as some cannot access the internet;
  • The National Audit Office says that reform may end up more expensive than the benefits it replaces. There is no plan B;
  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation were due to publish a report in April outlining, Rents, Risks and Relationships. (The timescales for publishing this report has had to be amended due to the COVID-19 outbreak);
  • With a five week wait for payments, mental health and work capability are having a negative effect;
  • Scottish Child Payment may be affected by UC;
  • Advocacy is a must for disabled persons;
  • There is a need to invest in advisers, who would be able to help and support families that have been affected by UC.

It was now the turn of David Ben-Aryeah to relate his experience and knowledge of UC and how his landlord Dunedin Canmore Housing (DCH) who are part of the Wheatley Group (the largest Housing Association in Scotland) support their tenants. David talked through the steps that Dunedin Canmore take:

  • Firstly your Housing Officer or a free 0800 help line is available. If you are a tenant, on UC and your circumstances change, it is important to notify your Housing Officer quickly so the first payment is not delayed;
  • DCH will help you make a claim;
  • DCH will offer support until the first payment is received;
  • DCH will help you set up an email address and get you online;
  • DCH will help you set up a bank account as that is where your money gets paid in;
  • DCH will help you budget as your money has to stretch for a month if not more.

David noted that he is pleased that Social Security Scotland has issued a Charter and that over the next few years, they will take control over a range of benefits from the Department of Works and Pensions – mostly disability and carer’s benefits, together with a small number of income related benefits like Best Start Grant and Funeral Expense Assistance. Social security is a human right and is an investment in the people of Scotland. A booklet is available “Our Charter” at or by calling 0800 182 2222.

The Big Debate: Ich bin ein Berliner

Barbara Steenbergen, representative of the International Union of Tenants and John Boyle, Director of Research and Strategy, Rettie & Co were the guest speakers.

At a time of global change, citizens across the world are pushing back against a lack of affordable housing. In Berlin the government recently approved a plan to freeze rents for the next five years, on top of its existing rent controls. This is seen as an attempt to ease increasing tension over the availability of affordable housing in the city. Is it time for such a change in Scotland? Do we need greater rent control and regulation to bring fairness to the housing market here in Scotland?

Barbara gave a background to the city of Berlin:

  • There are 3.7million people living in the city and the population is growing by between 40 and 50 thousand per year. Between 2012-2015 the population of Berlin grew by 175,000;
  • 85% of people living in Berlin are tenants renting;
  • 54% of these are single people;
  • Average earnings are about £1,600 per month;
  • Rent costs are between 28%-44% of net household income;
  • The rent freeze applies to the Private Rented Sector but does not apply to new builds;
  • Comparative rents were given between existing and rent freeze;
  • In bringing this forward to the government 71% of the tenants agreed to a rent freeze;
  • It is hoped that the rent freeze will bring social peace within Berlin.

I have summed up a few key points, which I believe are important moving forward:

  1. We need the data on actual rents to see if, where and when rent controls are needed;
  2. Policy should be evidence led (like Scottish Land Commission proposals on land reform). There is vast international evidence on the implementation of rent controls (and costs and benefits) that need to be assessed in advance of policy;
  3. We have a supply crisis in housing. Rent controls need to be compatible with supply remedies, not endanger them.

Written by :

Avatar of TerryKirby