Blog: The role of social letting agents should be expanded in Scotland
By Ellie Hutchinson, private renting project manager at Shelter Scotland
Private renting in Scotland has changed.
Where it was once dominated by students and young professionals looking for flexibility, nowadays private renting provides homes to tens of thousands of families with children and vulnerable people - a huge change brought about by decades of underinvestment in socially rented homes.
It is therefore critical that the experiences of all private renters are improved. Shelter Scotland believes letting agents can play an important role in ensuring private renting is fit and fair for all.
In a housing landscape which is characterised by tens of thousands of individual landlords, many with only one or two properties, it is inevitable that letting will be an ad-hoc activity for the most part. So well-managed, well-regulated and responsible letting agents can bridge the gap over to higher standards and professional service.
But private renting is also diversifying. Households who, twenty years ago, would have found a home with a council or housing association are now turning to private renting, whether through choice or constraint. Many of these households will find their own way through the sector, without any assistance, but some may need the kind of support and guidance which a social landlord would be able to offer.
“In a housing landscape which is characterised by tens of thousands of individual landlords, many with only one or two properties, it is inevitable that letting will be an ad-hoc activity for the most part.”
That is where ‘social letting agents’ come in - a term loosely used to cover a broad range of initiatives focusing on enabling access to private renting for lower income and vulnerable groups.
Much more familiar in England, there are a few scattered examples in Scotland of where letting agents tailor their services to client groups on lower incomes or who face some other form of disadvantage. The help might be through setting up the tenancy; or navigating through benefits, or accessing support to stay in tenancy.
Those scattered examples aside, there is still a long way to go, in Scotland, to embed social letting activity in local policy and practice, to see the range of social letting agents expand and, just as importantly, to share learning lessons with mainstream letting agents.
Shelter Scotland wants to help make that happen.
Through a four year project, funded by the Oak Foundation we have asked research company Anna Evans Housing Consultancy to piece together a profile of social letting agents in Scotland and some reflections on practice in England.
Anna and her team’s work is published on the Shelter Scotland website. From this work we have concluded that there is clear consumer demand for the enhanced service that social letting agents can offer, but on its own there is little evidence that the market will respond in a widespread way.
So we have identified some possible ways in which we can help to promote and develop this activity and have commissioned Anna and her team to carry out some follow up work, speaking in more depth to people in the sector and other housing bodies, between now and June.