Natasha Miller, Private Renting Project Manager, hails joint working between councils in Ayrshire and local letting agents. Here she shares details of her work.

It’s fair to say letting agents have had to contend with a significant amount of change over the last year in Scotland. With the introduction of the new private tenancy regime and letting agent regulation, it’s no wonder that many are feeling anxious about the prospect of supporting new and existing tenants to apply for Universal Credit for the first time too. 

So why has Shelter Scotland been working with letting agents? 

As part of a two-year pilot, funded by the Oak Foundation, Shelter Scotland has been working in partnership with a group of letting agents to better understand their businesses and the barriers faced when trying to support tenants who find themselves in need of a bit of extra help.  Ultimately, letting agents who feel more informed and confident about helping tenants, is better for those tenants.  We have called this a “Letting Agent Plus” service. 

Among the most common issues raised by those agents were tenants struggling with rent arrears, or essential household costs. This was invariably linked to either an issue with Housing Benefit or Universal Credit or, lack of knowledge about what support was available for tenants experiencing hardship. 

Pan-Ayrshire letting agent forum 

As lead officer for Shelter’s letting agent work, I was keen to see if the views and experiences of our partner agent matched those of the wider industry, so I organised three dedicated letting agent forum events in partnership with local authorities across the central belt. The second of these events took place on early December 2018 in Prestwick in partnership with South, North and East Ayrshire Councils.  

The event was well attended with additional seats having to be brought in and the 2.5 hours allotted timeslot proving to be too short for both the presentations from the Scottish Government Letting Agent Registration team and DWP and lively discussions initiated by attendees. 

Feedback was extremely positive. Attendees stated that the content was “well delivered” and contained a “good explanation of process” in relation to the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP)’s presentation on Universal Credit. Although not directly mentioned in feedback, undoubtedly the draw of a free event, constituting 2.5 hours formal continuous professional development (CPD), enticed a number of attendees to brave the weather and, in some instances, travel significant distances to join us.  

Agents requested that future events continue to include “specific workshops” of relevance to them and “more information for letting agents to pass onto/assist tenants” with. The only negative comment was that the event was “too short”!  

Collaboration is key 

Letting agents clearly appreciated the opportunity to share their experiences and have their concerns taken seriously by organisations who have the ability to influence meaningful policy and practice change within the PRS in future. One way of ensuring attendees find events like this worthwhile is by investing in a spectrum of meaningful engagement with private rented sector (PRS) landlords, agents and tenants alike, as the three Ayrshire local authorities have successfully been doing.  

Whilst Shelter Scotland successfully campaigned for legislative change in the PRS aimed at redressing the balance of power between landlord and tenant rights, we know this alone will not be sufficient. A large part of the solution lies with continued partnership working with the rest of the PRS, local authorities and advice agencies as well as private tenants to ensure that the sector is fit-for-purpose for all.  

If you are interested in organising a similar event in your local area and would like to find out more about our letting agent forum events, I’d like to hear from you.   

And do please join us for Shelter Scotland annual PRS Conference on the 20th March 2019 too where we will be reflecting on the initial impact of recent reforms in Scotland. We’ll also be sharing learning and resources developed over the last 4 years of our Oak Foundation funded PRS work. 

Thanks to the Ayrshire local authorities for helping make this event possible, with particular thanks going to South Ayrshire Council for hosting the event.