Scottish House Condition Survey & Tenement Maintenance

BEFS Director reflects on the Scottish House Condition Survey 2018 findings in the context of the work of the Scottish Parliamentary Working Group for Tenement Maintenance.

The Scottish Parliamentary Working Group on Tenement Maintenance reconvened on the 16th January 2020 to discuss the Scottish Government’s December response to the group recommendations.

The most substantive point is that the Scottish Government is already engaging with the Scottish Law Commission (SLC) on all three recommendations. This is with a view to referring these matters to the SLC to carry out a law reform project and provide a report with recommendations and a draft Bill that would implement the reforms. While the working group’s recommendation had been for the SLC to only consider compulsory Owners’ Associations it was acknowledged that the SLC examining all three recommendations could prevent further delay should legal conflicts arise as legislative research is progressed for compulsory Tenement Inspections and Sinking Funds.

The Scottish Government described the aspiration for an Act of Parliament in 2025 as ambitious not impossible, acknowledging the current workload of the SLC and other demanding legislative programmes. There is also the matter of the Holyrood elections in May 2021. Given the cross party consensus on the need to address tenement maintenance it would be good to see commitments in all political party manifestos to progress the legislation in the next parliament.

The Scottish Government will also include ongoing fire safety and energy efficiency considerations as part of the engagement with SLC which is eminently sensible holistic look at tenements’ needs rather than piecemeal approach. These should be tied in to Douglas Robertson’s recommendation, in his report ‘Why Flats Fall Down’, that there should be one housing standard set for all tenures, a goal that could be systematically worked towards. The recommendation of Dame Judith Hackitt’s report on building safety (post Grenfell fire) that there should be an accountable person for safety in buildings six storeys and above, along with a golden thread of building data, should also have a bearing on future tenement legislation.

For many the introduction of legislation addressing the condition of tenements in 2025 will seem too far away but the intention of the working group was always to create the framework necessary for behaviour change, a long term ambition not a short term fix. This does not mean that there are not maintenance problems that need addressed with urgency but the means for doing that frequently requires local authority interventions and large sums of public money invested – as is happening in Cessnock – and repeats a cycle of publicly funded repair for privately owned property, which the working group recommendations seek to shift.

Evidence that there is an urgent and important need was forthcoming in last week’s publication of the Scottish House Condition Survey 2018 (SHCS). The level of disrepair increased 7 percentage points, with 75% of all dwellings having some degree of disrepair and disrepair to critical elements stood at 57%, also an increase of 7 percentage points. The latter returns to 2013 levels of disrepair to critical elements. Critical and urgent disrepair in pre-1919 has increased to 40% but the biggest increases in critical disrepair are in housing built between 1919 – 1964. The latter point is one reason why the working group recommendations are age blind – the research undertaken suggested post-war building stock was in increasing disrepair, a fact now confirmed by Scottish Government statistics. While housing associations continue to have the lowest levels of disrepair – a good example of the positive results of regulation – the greatest increase in critical disrepair by tenure is in the private rented sector which has risen by 13%. Unfortunately, the SHCS does not present the data on condition specifically for tenements and there remain questions from some quarters about the validity of sample size. Some professionals feel it underestimates the extent of disrepair.

If you live in a tenement that is not wind and watertight the matter is urgent but if the Scottish Government is to meet ambitious targets in reducing the production of greenhouse gases then tenement repair is imperative. Without maintaining our existing building stock, of all ages, we will increase the likelihood of the need for new buildings which, when full lifecycle carbon costs are taken into account, will increase the production of greenhouse gases. The recent Infrastructure Commission for Scotland Key Findings Report stresses the need for maintaining and reusing existing infrastructure, a principle that urgently needs applied to Scotland’s housing stock.

With the commitment of the Scottish Government to bringing forth legislation to address the condition of tenements, the Scottish Parliamentary Working Group on Tenement Maintenance has met a key aim, only with the cross party support of Members of the Scottish Parliament. Stakeholders will continue to meet to explore interim measures that can be introduced and piloted that will assist the Scottish Government and the Scottish Law Commission as it moves towards draft legislation. The Scottish Government itself has listed key areas that the working group will be keen to support:

  • commissioning research to determine the proportion, geography, and tenure mix of relevant buildings, and how this may affect the viability and establishment of owners’ associations;
  • supporting development of good practice to encourage owners to set up their own associations, including considerations on condition reports;
  • the development of a form for a tenement condition report and a framework for recognised professionals to complete it;
  • the development of proposals for a publically accessible online platform to support access to tenement condition reports, so that people are able to complete them and share them on a voluntary basis and to facilitate a mandatory system;
  • for tenement condition to be included as part of ongoing considerations on improvements to Home Reports;
  • convening a forum of finance professionals to advise on a building reserve fund, initially available on a voluntary basis;
  • commissioning research to evaluate what factors affect repair costs and how to set a level of expected contribution for a building reserve fund; and
  • consideration of what an affordable, viable compulsory factoring service might look like, and engage with property factors on this

The stakeholders would like to thank all MSPs who have engaged and supported the discussion, particularly the convener Graham Simpson MSP and founding convenor Ben Macpherson MSP.

Full details of the group’s recommendations, meetings and research can be found here.