Rents could be hiked to meet housing association FoI costs
Tenants may end up having to cover the cost of Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation if it is extended to housing associations.
A senior housing association figure said people’s pockets will be hit if moves to make the bodies more transparent go ahead.
Mary Taylor, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, spoke out after it was revealed a majority of respondents to a Scottish Government survey back extending FoI laws. FoI gives the public the right to access information held by public bodies.
Charities and social landlords are not currently subject to the FoI legislation, even when they provide public services.
However, over 70% of respondents to the consultation supported housing associations being opened up to FoI.
Of the 26% opposing extension, the majority are housing associations or their representative bodies.
Those supporting extension comprise of councils, campaign groups, trade unions and – perhaps tellingly – tenants’ groups.
However, Taylor said associations are already transparent, and warned that FoI compliance costs would have to come out of people's rent.
She hit out: “The Scottish Government has yet to make a decision regarding the potential extension of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA). It is important not to consider extension a foregone conclusion and that all arguments – both for and against extension – be fully considered as part of this process. We would therefore welcome the approach being taken by Scottish Government.
“Registered social landlords (RSL) in Scotland are committed to openness and transparency – and are subject to a great deal of scrutiny through the Scottish Housing Regulator, OSCR, when a charity, the Care Commission when providing care services, and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
“RSLs have demonstrated strong performance when measured against the Scottish Social Housing Charter, with tenant satisfaction higher in terms of communications received from RSLs than in local authorities, which are subject to FoI legislation.
“The Scottish Government has acknowledged that there have been few examples of difficulty in obtaining information from RSLs in connection with functions of a public nature, and there is a lack of information about the likely volume, scope or source of requests.
“This is of particular concern when any additional costs associated with FOISA would have to be met through tenants’ rental income.”
Carole Ewart, convener of Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS), said: “It is good that a cross-section of Scottish society agrees that the public functions of housing associations should be open to legally enforceable requests for information from the public.
“The human right of tenants and the Scottish public to receive and share information so they can form an opinion, have been eroded for too long.”
The CFoIS is also offering to assist housing associations prepare for coverage.