By Sally Thomas

SEPTEMBER will see the Scottish Government set out its plans for the coming year in its annual Programme for Government. There is no shortage of issues to tackle, and members of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) are hoping for decisive action to help their tenants get through the next few months.

Housing associations and co-operatives provide safe, warm, low-cost homes for life to people from all kinds of backgrounds. They are key to ending homelessness, tackling poverty and dealing with the climate emergency. Their tenants – a third of whom already live in fuel insecurity – are on the front line of the cost of living crisis. And right now, they desperately need government support.

SFHA wants to see action in three areas in the Programme for Government.

First, we must help our tenants to keep their heads above water, heat their homes and put food on their table. We’re asking the Scottish Government for a £2.5 million Cost of Living fund, so housing associations and co-operatives can get financial, food and fuel support directly to their tenants.

Second, we need continued substantial investment in energy costs. Last week we launched a £2m Social Housing Fuel Support Fund, funded by the Scottish Government, to help tenants at risk of fuel poverty. This type of financing is exactly what is needed: but we will need much more to avert catastrophe this winter.

Third, we cannot lose sight of the urgent need to deliver new social homes. Rents in the social housing sector are typically half of those charged by private landlords, so more social homes are essential to tackle the problem of unaffordable rents. What’s more, social housing's greater energy efficiency means it is an important tool in the fight against climate change. But our members report spiralling construction costs, along with uncertainty about the costs of meeting the next round of decarbonisation challenges. Without support on both of these issues, Scotland’s target of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 will be missed.

The next parliamentary term will also bring a Housing Bill, to deliver aspects of the Scottish Government’s rented sector strategy. We need this to be well-crafted, putting tenants’ rights first while recognising the crucial differences between the social and rented sectors: not least the fact that housing associations and co-operatives re-invest rents into creating and maintaining high-quality, low-cost homes.

Undoubtedly, the Scottish Government’s next steps involve some tricky tightrope-walking, as it balances urgent funding for today with capital investment in the zero-carbon homes we desperately need for tomorrow.

Our members will be there for their tenants through all of this. Housing associations and co-operatives are in it for the long term: the sector has been key to recovering from previous economic crises and is central to its local communities. We need the Scottish Government to trust and invest in our members to help tenants get through these latest crises: the need for social housing has rarely been greater.

Sally Thomas is Chief Executive, SFHA