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Today's Scottish news (October 30)

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Regulator seeks assurance over Muirhouse development and subsidiary plans


The Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) has placed Muirhouse Housing Association under a ‘medium’ level of engagement over its failure to provide assurances about its development and subsidiary plans.
 
SHR’s updated Regulation Plan for Muirhouse notes that the association plans to grow considerably through new development in the next three years. Muirhouse also has plans to develop a large number of mid market rent housing for the first time and has established a subsidiary to manage the mid-market rent properties.
 
Given these issues, SHR sought assurances from Muirhouse about its business and its plans to manage the risks involved with its development programme. It also sought assurance about its plans to manage the welfare reform changes including the impact on income, costs and assumptions for arrears and bad debts.
 
Muirhouse was unable to provide SHR with all of the financial and business planning information it had asked for.
 
In August 2014, SHR asked Muirhouse to commission an Independent Financial Assessment to provide it with assurance about its financial position, the impact of its development activity and the robustness of its financial planning processes.

The Regulation Plan, which sets out the engagement the Scottish Housing Regulator will have with Muirhouse Housing Association during the financial year 2014/15, noted: “We will have medium engagement with Muirhouse to get a higher level of assurance about its overall financial capacity and viability in light of its development and subsidiary activity.”
 
It added: “Muirhouse will complete the Independent Financial Assessment and we will review our regulatory engagement when we see the findings from the Assessment.”
 
Muirhouse was registered as a social landlord in 1992. It owns and manages 448 houses in north west Edinburgh. It has charitable status and employs around 8 people. Its turnover for the year ended 31 March 2014 was just over £1.8 million.

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Housing summit to focus on post referendum implications and tackling rural disadvantage


Taking place six weeks after the Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish Rural and Islands Housing Conference is the first major social housing event to take place since the vote. It will explore what now lies ahead for the sector and how rural disadvantage can be tackled.
 
The conference, organised by the Rural and Island Housing Association Forum (RIHAF), is entitled ‘Scotland has decided - what now for rural and island housing?’.
 
The event will open with a plenary session, featuring Mary Taylor, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (pictured), and Lesley Fraser, director of housing, regeneration and welfare at the Scottish Government, which will look at the implications of the vote and what further devolution could mean for social housing.
 
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, will address delegates on what the result of the vote could bring for social housing in England and the rest of the UK.

The conference will also explore key issues for rural and island housing such as fuel poverty.
 
Many rural and island tenants find themselves disadvantaged due to high fuel costs and living in homes that are off the mains gas network. In an effort to tackle such disadvantage, an alliance of housing associations - which includes several RIHAF members - is forming a utility company based on housing association principles.
 
Our Power, which will be showcased at the event, aims to save tenants at least £100 per year off their energy bills and eliminate the poverty premium associated with pre-payment meters. The initiative combines the values of the housing association sector with the delivery of energy to customers at competitive tariffs over the long-term. The company aims to provide excellent customer service whilst reducing fuel poverty amongst tenants and the communities in which associations operate. It also has ambitions to tackle other failures in the energy sector, including the geographical discrimination faced by Highland and island communities.
 
Neil Clapperton, chief executive of Grampian Housing Association, which is part of the alliance of housing associations which makes up Our Power, said: "Advising tenants, insulating homes and improving heating systems is only part of the battle to reduce fuel poverty. But a group of Scottish housing associations thinks it has now cracked the outstanding problem of what to do about rising energy bills.
 
“It is creating Our Power, a utility company built on the housing association model with clear social impact: to cut tenant electricity and gas bills and eliminate the extra cost of pre-payment meters whilst providing excellent customer service and so directly reducing fuel poverty across the country. Funding is being sought now to make it a reality in 2015."
 
The minister for housing and welfare, Margaret Burgess, will address the conference on the second day of the event and take part in a question and answer session.
 
Margaret Burgess said: “Housing transforms people’s lives, so it’s only right that everyone should live in high quality, affordable and energy efficient homes. The Scottish Rural and Islands Housing Conference is an opportunity to engage with organisations which help shape the physical, economic and social landscape of our rural and island communities.
 
“It is also a chance to reaffirm this government’s commitment to investing in housing and using all our powers to tackle fuel poverty so that everyone has the opportunity to be part of a thriving community.”
 
Di Alexander, RIHAF chairman, said: “It just isn't right that most rural households are having to pay far more for the energy they purchase to keep their homes warm than their urban counterparts, and in the light of last year's Minimum Income Standard research findings, it is a national disgrace.
 
“Scotland now has a period of real opportunity to put in place policies which recognise and address rural disadvantage fairly and squarely. As community-focused rural and island housing associations, we will continue to roll up our sleeves and play our part, but our politicians must also show willing and rise to the policy challenge.”
 
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Approval granted for 167 new homes in Stirling


Planning approval has been granted for a Barratt Homes development of 147 new homes in Stirling, bringing more than £20m of new investment to the area.
 
Plans for Highland Gate comprise of a range of three bedroom terraced, semi-detached and detached homes, and four bedroom detached homes. A further 20 homes will be built for Stirling Council.
 
With approval now granted, work is expected to start on site later this year with the first homes ready to move into next summer.
 
Steve Mariner, sales and marketing director for Barratt Homes West Scotland, said: “Stirling is a beautiful city where homes for families, couples and commuters alike are in high demand. Highland Gate will bring much-needed housing to the area as well as significant investment, and as part of our commitment to new and existing communities we will make important contributions to education and transport facilities in the area.”

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Easthall Park Housing Co-operative shortlisted for two national awards


Easthall Park Housing Co-operative has been shortlisted for two prestigious awards which recognise its work in developing the capacity of young people.
 
The first sees Easthall Park shortlisted for a Youth Investment Award at the Scotland’s Best Employee Awards, 2014. The purpose of this award is to recognise and reward employees who demonstrate a strong commitment to the growth and development of young people. 
 
The awards ceremony takes place on 20th November at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.
 
Easthall Park has also been shortlisted for an award at the Tenant Participation Advisory Services National Good Practice Awards, 2014 in recognition of the variety of projects and services it delivers with Easthall Residents Association, a key strategic partner  focused on engaging with young people in the community.
 
This ceremony will take place on 7th November at the Fairmount Hotel in St Andrews.
 
John McMorrow, director of Easthall Park Housing Co-operative, said: “We are very proud that, after recently receiving the Investors in Young People good practice award, we’ve been shortlisted for two further awards that recognise our work with young people.
 
“As an employer defined by a strong social purpose, we are passionate about engaging with and developing the health and wellbeing of young people. We value the diversity and enthusiasm young people bring to the workplace and as a business we are driven to support young people in our community develop the confidence and skills to fulfil their significant potential.
 
“Our mission statement is ‘making a difference to our community’ and how we support and develop young people is a key part of what we do, vital to achieving our mission.”

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Letter to the Editor


Dear Scottish Housing News
 
Shelter Scotland’s Make Renting Right campaign must be supported. While this comes from the charitable sector, letting agents want the same things.
 
The private rental market is growing. A downturn in the property market along with limited access to mortgages, particularly for first time buyers, as well as a lack of housing generally have been cited as the catalyst for this expansion. But with the property market now in recovery mode, and the private rented sector (PRS) still growing, these assumptions need to be re-assessed.
 
House prices are rising again and while this is the case, rental properties will always remain an attractive option. But the mindset is also shifting. Rentals offer flexible accommodation for today’s mobile professional workforce. They offer families a home they could not otherwise buy. In Edinburgh, in particular, they offer young professionals the city centre lifestyle they want to live.
 
And it is because of these positive trends that the PRS is growing.
 
But, legislation needs to be tightened to weed out cowboys and unscrupulous practitioners. While the vast majority of this generation of landlords and agents are responsible business people or individual investors who see their properties as long term assets, legislation, with a robust set of regulations and high standards of accreditation, is therefore welcomed and encouraged by the majority in order to rid the industry of the rogue operators and indeed raise the status of the profession.
 
Yours sincerely
 
Malcolm Cannon,
CEO
Braemore, Edinburgh's largest Lettings and Property Management Company.

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Number of workless households drops by 38,000


The number of workless households in Scotland has reduced by 38,000 over the last year, according to new figures.
 
The Office of National Statistics figures count the number of households where no adults are working and show the number of workless households in Scotland was 318,000, down 38,000 on the previous year - the second largest decrease in workless household level across all 12 regions and countries of the UK.
 
The workless household rate in Scotland was 17.5 per cent, a decrease of 2.0 percentage points over the year. This compares to the UK rate of 15.9 per cent.
 
The proportion of children in Scotland living in a workless household decreased by 0.5 percentage points - just under 1 in 8 children or 11.8 per cent. This compares to a higher rate across the UK at 12.7 per cent.
 
Finance secretary John Swinney (pictured) said the figures show that the Scottish Government is continuing to tackle unemployment and that the Scottish economy is growing. 

He added: “We now have the highest jobs figures in history, the highest female employment in history, the lowest level of unemployment since the end of 2008, lower unemployment than the rest of the UK and higher employment and lower inactivity. 

“However, we need to continue to build on this and our task is to make sure that everyone is able to benefit from our economic success. That means everyone who wants it should have access to the employment and training they need to get on in life. 

“That is why we have already set out key measures – including £16 million of additional investment in tackling youth employment and £4.5 billion of investment in infrastructure - that will secure continued growth and further improvements in employment.”

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Taking Customer Service to a new level at Irvine Housing Association


Irvine Housing Association has launched a new customer service centre (CSC) – an extension of the 24/7 service already available to Riverside Group customers.
 
The new Irvine-based CSC is part of a wider team based in Riverside’s head office. This service expansion means the teams can mutually support each other with enquiries, resulting in a quicker response to customers from an advisor based in either Irvine or Liverpool.
 

 
Nicola Thom, executive director (operations) at IHA, said: “Since joining Riverside we have been reviewing the range of services that we offer to our customers, particularly offering greater choices on how they access our services, in ways that suit them. Until now, we were only able to offer IHA customers an emergency repairs service out of hours. Now our customers can access our full range of services 24/7 – one of the many benefits of being part of Riverside.
 
“We are committed to ensuring the strongest possible connection with our customers. It’s about really understanding our customers’ changing needs and expectations and being modern and flexible in our response. The fact that the team can respond to enquiries 24/7 will free up our estate based staff to be more visible within our communities, responding more effectively to local matters as they arise.”
 
Paul Hillard, managing director at IHA, said: “As part of Riverside we are able to share services and best practice throughout the divisions. With the support of the Riverside, a significant amount of time has been spent planning this service expansion and investing in our staff team at Irvine. We are delighted to launch an extension to the CSC here in Scotland, and the potential to expand the team as the service develops is an exciting prospect.
 
“This is another example of our continued growth as part of Riverside, offering new services to our customers, while seeking to create job opportunities here in Irvine, which has some of the highest levels of unemployment in the country.”

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TIS holds successful Scrutiny Good Practice Conference


Over 80 tenants, housing staff, elected members and board members gathered in Glasgow last week for the sell-out TIS Good Practice Conference “The Scrutiny Journey - Are we going in the right direction?”.
 
The event, part of the national TIS Scrutiny ‘Making It Happen’ Programme, also marked the launch of Scrutiny Approved – TIS and SHBVN scrutiny accreditation.
 

 
The day highlighted examples of successful approaches to Tenant Scrutiny, showed how they were achieved and inspired delegates to continue their scrutiny journey. The informative and participative programme included:
  • Update from Lesley Kerr, head of charter development, Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR), on the focus of the SHR, the first round of ARC reports, the SHR analysis and the reporting on the SHR website.
  • Interactive workshops hosted by East Lothian Council and Tenants & Residents Panel, Thenue Housing Association Resident Empowerment Scrutiny Team and Fife Council.
  • Launch of Scrutiny Approved - an accreditation framework developed by TIS and SHBVN using their expertise in measuring performance and making tenant scrutiny a reality in Scotland. This accreditation is aimed at social rented sector landlords and will showcase that you are involving tenants and service users effectively in the self-assessment process. It will also highlight further opportunities for development.
The presentations from the event are now in the members-only area of the TIS website, at www.tis.org.uk. As a member of TIS, you will have access to this area as well as discounted rates for the TIS Scrutiny ‘Making it Happen’ Programme. If you are interested in joining TIS, or finding out more about Scrutiny Approved please contact Leanne Blunsden on 0141 248 1242 or lblunsden@tis.org.uk.

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Housing provider raises the bar for customer care


A Scottish housing and care provider has excelled in its commitment to improving customer satisfaction after achieving stellar feedback from a tenant-led report.
 
Blackwood announced the results of its in-house Charter Report for 2014, which highlights its growth in key areas such as tenancy duration, home maintenance and customer care response times.
 
Standout statistics from the report show substantial improvement in tenancy duration with 90 per cent of new Blackwood tenants retaining their tenancy after a year of occupancy and an 89 per cent satisfaction rating in maintenance services.
 
Blackwood has also proven its merit in customer care response times, with 91 per cent of complaints answered on time.
 


Fanchea Kelly, Stephen Gallagher and Margaret Burgess at the recent Blackwood HQ launch
 
In a unique move, the organisation developed its yearly Charter Report with the assistance and guidance of staff members and tenants – otherwise known as Team Blackwood.
 
Team Blackwood, made up of scrutiny panels in each region, took part in a variety of interactive sessions to find out what Blackwood tenants really think about the service they receive and to discuss ways in which it can be improved.
 
This allowed tenants to vocalise their thoughts and opinions on what they thought of Blackwood and what they would like to focus on in the report.
 
Fanchea Kelly, chief executive at Blackwood, is delighted with the results and contributions made to the report by tenants and staff.
 
Fanchea played a key role in steering Blackwood through the preparation process for the inaugural return of the Scottish Social Housing Charter, creating ‘Team Blackwood’ to help gauge customer feedback across the country.
 
She said: “I am very proud of how Blackwood’s tenants and staff have worked together to assess the first year’s performance against the Charter.
 
“This report has been shaped by Team Blackwood and by our tenants across the country through numerous surveys and events.
 
“I am pleased that the figures show there are many areas where Blackwood is performing well, including our repairs service, how quickly we let our homes, how we support people to live independently in their own homes, and our response times for complaints.”  
 
Team Blackwood is also delighted with the report results – and strongly believes in the benefits of being involved in a scrutiny panel.
 
They said: “As members of Team Blackwood we all volunteered because we are passionate about working with staff to improve services - we have a clear role in ensuring that all services are truly customer focused.
 
“Being a Team Blackwood member has brought fun and friendship to us all, though it does have a serious side. We will continue to work hard to make sure all tenants’ views are heard.
 
“One area we are particularly pleased with is repairs. Blackwood has faster response times than many other landlords and is investing a lot to bring our homes up to standard and make them suitable for those of us with disabilities.”
 
Further testament for the benefits of Team Blackwood has come from tenant, Scott Robb who resides at the housing provider’s St Leonard’s Court development, in Ayr.
 
He said: “I joined the scrutiny panel in 2013, and it’s certainly been worthwhile – opening my eyes to the rules and regulations which make an organisation. It’s nice to see the procedures which take place behind the scenes.”
 
“Most of all, being a part of Team Blackwood has given me confidence as it’s been a great way to meet other people and other residents – to share stories, and to make new friends.”
 
Working in 29 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, Blackwood is more widely dispersed than any other care or housing provider and has embraced the challenges of taking housing and care into innovative areas at a time when funding is increasingly limited.
 
With over 1600 homes throughout the country it is a leader in helping those who are disabled, elderly or living with sensory impairments live more independently.
 
Blackwood recently unveiled its tech-savvy new headquarters, located in Edinburgh’s Dundee Street.
 
The event was attended by notable figures such as housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess and members of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

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House prices highest on record according to Registers of Scotland


Houses prices are at their highest level since records began, according to official statistics published by Registers of Scotland (RoS).
 
The average house price in Scotland in the second quarter was £170,190, up 5.2 per cent on the same period in 2013.
 
This is the highest figure since RoS began compiling quarterly house price statistics in 2003.
From July to September this year, the total volume of sales was also up, with an increase of 9.1 per cent on the same quarter in the previous year.
 
This figure represents the highest volume of sales for any quarter since quarter one of 2008-09.
 
Registers of Scotland’s director of commercial services, Kenny Crawford (pictured), said: “This is the second consecutive quarter in which the annual increase in average house price has risen by over 5 per cent, bringing the average property price above pre-economic downturn levels, to just over £170,000.
 
“This, combined with the increase in sales volumes, has brought the total value of sales across Scotland to just under £4.5 billion for the quarter, up 14.8 per cent on the same period last year.”
 
Renfrewshire recorded the highest percentage rise in average price compared with the same quarter of the previous year, up 17.2 per cent to £137,072.
 
Edinburgh recorded the highest average at £235,402, a rise of 5.6 per cent compared with the same quarter in the previous year.
 
The largest percentage fall in price was Scottish Borders which showed a drop of 5.7 per cent with an average price of £164,448.
 
Edinburgh remains the largest market with sales of just under £759 million for the quarter, an increase of 17.9 per cent compared with the same quarter last year.
 
East Dunbartonshire showed the highest percentage rise with the value of sales increasing by 36.4 per cent compared to the previous year.
 
All property types showed an increase in average house price in this quarter, the biggest increase being in terraced properties at 5.3 per cent.
 
The largest sales volumes came from detached properties, which went up by 11.2 per cent on the previous year.
 
These statistics cover all residential sales, including those that did not involve a mortgage.

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Castlehill sponsored walk raises £850 for Newton Dee community


Castlehill Housing Association held a sponsored walk at Glencova, Angus.
 
23 Castlehill staff took part on the sponsored walk, which was the first one organised by the association since 2012.

Picture: Rona Ritchie (left) hands over a cheque for £850 to Jake Vollrath (Newton Dee staff) & Carla Whittaker (Newton Dee resident).
 
In all, £733 was raised for Newton Dee by the participants on the walk, which was raised to £850 by the Management Committee of Castlehill. In addition, £495 was raised for the Aberdeen city Care & Repair Group charity, which will be used to offer grants to clients of Aberdeen Care and Repair.
 
Castlehill employee, Rona Ritchie, who raised the most individually (£170) presented the cheque to representatives from Newton Dee at the Association’s sheltered scheme in Ruthrie Court, Aberdeen, where she is the scheme manager.
 
Newton Dee is a Camphill community in Aberdeen. They offer a home, meaningful work & opportunities for personal development to adults with learning disabilities & other special needs.
 
Their aim is to help everyone reach their fullest potential regardless of disability.
 
David Lappin, Castlehill’s chief executive, said: “We’re delighted to support Newton Dee, which is a worthy local charity. In addition, we had a great day out – and some of us even had the energy to tackle a Munro on the way back.”

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