What are my Rights and Responsibilities as a tenant?
With the Council:
Most Highland Council tenants sign the Scottish Secure Tenancy (SST), although some may sign a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy (SSST) or tenancy agreement, depending on their circumstances. Every Highland Council tenant is given a copy of their tenancy agreement at their New Tenant Interview. This provides information on both the rights and responsibilities of Council tenants and your landlord – the Council. Every tenant is talked through the implications of becoming a tenant and is given lots of useful information and advice to help them settle in.
The main responsibilities of becoming a tenant are:
- To pay your rent on time
- To ensure you claim Housing Benefit to help you pay the rent if you cannot afford it
- To keep the property in good condition and report repairs as required
- To make sure you or your family and friends do not behave in an anti-social way
- To make sure any pets do not cause a nuisance
The Council also has many leaflets with information on tenancy matters including:
- paying the rent
- what to do about anti-social behaviour
- the allocation of Council housing
- the repairs service and ordering repairs
With a Housing Association:
New tenants of housing associations also sign a Scottish Secure Tenancy or Short Scottish Secure Tenancy, depending on their circumstances. Each organisation has their own process for informing tenants of their rights and responsibilities at the start of their tenancy, and will advise new tenants accordingly.
What Repairs and Maintenance am I responsible for?
With the Council
The responsibility for repairs to Council houses is shared between the Council and the tenant. Basically, the Council is responsible for maintaining the fabric and permanent fittings of the building in good condition. Whereas the tenant is responsible for internal decoration, furnishings and removable fittings like clothes lines, TV aerials, curtain rails and so on. Specific conditions apply to furnished and partially furnished tenancies - these will be set out in the tenancy agreement.
Although the Council intends to respond to every repair as quickly as possible, it is necessary to categorise repairs and prioritise them. This is due to the fact that the Council has to pay a contractor more for carrying out emergency work. Repairs are categorised by the Council as emergency, high priority, routine or minor works. Each has a different time-scale for response:
Category and Response Time-scale
Emergency - Immediate response
High Priority - Within 3 working days
Routine - Within 20 working days
Low priority programmed work - Within a timescale agreed with the contractor with the time for completion agreed at the start of the work
Minor Works - by quotation with the time for completion stated on the quotation
Some routine works may be held back if it is known that other properties in the street, estate, village or settlement require the same work. A small programme of low priority work will then be drawn up. This category of repair will be especially appropriate for work of a preventative nature such as gutter cleaning, fencing and path repairs. Exceptions to these timescales are sometimes made. These are only where, for medical or social reasons, carrying out the repair in the normal time-scale would cause suffering to the occupants.
Tenants can request a receipt when they report a repair to the Council. This is to confirm the repair request, the priority of repair, time-scale for completion, access arrangements and details of the contractor. A booklet which gives information on the repairs service and how to report repairs is available from the local housing office. All tenants are issued with a booklet on how to report repairs at the start of their tenancy.
Planned Maintenance is work which replaces and/or upgrades parts of the building fabric, such as painting houses. It takes place according to priorities and a programme set by the Council.
With a Housing Association
Responsibility for repairs to housing association houses is shared between the association and the tenant. Generally the association is responsible for maintaining the fabric and permanent fittings of the building in good condition. The tenant is responsible for internal decoration, furnishings and removable fittings. Full details of the respective responsibilities are available from the relevant housing association.
Can I buy my house under the 'Right to Buy' Scheme?
Some tenants have the right to buy and others don’t. This depends on when your tenancy started; whether the area you live in is covered by ‘Pressured Area Status’ suspensions; if this is permitted under the terms of your lease and, if you are a housing association tenant, whether the organisation is exempt.
First time tenants after 1 March 2011, including those who have taken a voluntary break, do not have the right to buy (RTB). There are a very few exceptions.
Tenants moving into a house classed as a ‘new-supply’ house, will not have the right to buy that property. A ‘new-supply house’ is one which has been built or bought since 28 June 2008 by the Council or RSL. They are not subject to right to buy. For tenants with modernised right to buy entitlements this restriction only applies for the time they live in the ‘new-supply’ house.
Tenants with modernised right to buy entitlements who live in communities covered by Pressured Area Status, have their right to buy suspended. This includes tenants who started a tenancy since September 2002 including through a transfer, mutual exchange, succession or assignation. The suspension on sales will last until the designation is no longer in place. All of Highland’s communities are now covered by the Pressured Area Status designation except for some communities in Caithness. In Caithness, only Thurso and its neighbouring communities of Forss; Geise; Glengolly; Janetstown; Scrabster; and Weydale are covered by Pressured Area Status. This designation helps to make sure that social rented housing is available to let in communities where there are housing shortages. Alternative ways for tenants to get help to become home owners are set out elsewhere in this guide.
Tenants who live in group housing for people with specialist needs (like sheltered housing) or who live in housing which has been provided for persons of pensionable age will also be unable to buy their home through the right to buy.
In the Highlands, most of the housing associations have charitable status and their houses are exempt from the right to buy.
Some housing association tenants have existing right to buy eligibility, and this will continue so long as they remain in those tenancies. Others may be eligible to buy after a period of 10 years from 30 September 2002, although the landlord can decide to shorten this period of time or apply to have it extended.
Tenants with the old (preserved) RTB and tenants with modernised RTB can buy their homes through right to buy. If a tenant with the ‘old’ RTB transfers to another property (without a break), they move onto modernised right to buy rules.
To confirm if you are eligible to buy your home, please contact your landlord. If you are eligible, they can also tell you what your discount would be.
If you have the right to buy, you may be entitled to a discount. The maximum discount is 70% of the market value for flats and 60% for houses. In the modernised right to buy, there is no difference between flats and houses, and the discount cannot be more than £15,000.
Before considering buying your home, you should not only consider the cost of the loan or mortgage you will need to purchase the property, but other associated costs of buying your home. These may include:
- Cost of repairing and maintaining your home (e.g. roof; boiler, windows)
- Service and factoring charges (e.g. if you are buying a flat)
- Cost of home improvements (e.g. kitchens; double glazing; heating)
- Solicitors, survey, valuation and mortgage fees
- Building Insurance;
- Repaying discount if you sell within 3 years.
If you are happy that you can afford to buy your home, and you wish to apply to buy it, you should ask at your local housing office or Council Service Point for an application form and accompanying booklet. For Council tenants, the completed form can be returned to any Service Point or housing office. Housing association tenants should return it to their landlord. Staff will be happy to help you complete the form if required.
Your landlord can refuse to sell if you have arrears of rent, Council Tax, water and sewerage or other charges associated with your tenancy or previous tenancies. You should check with the Council and your landlord to make sure any such debts have been cleared before applying to buy. The sale of the property can only take place after its value has been officially assessed by the District Valuer (DV), a Government official. There is no right of appeal against the DV's valuation. It is very important at the offer stage that you have the services of a solicitor to help you complete the legal transaction properly.
The entire Right to Buy transaction, from the date of application to the point of legal completion of the purchase, takes around 4 – 6 months on average.
Further Information on Right to Buy
An information booklet ‘Your Right to Buy Your Home – a Guide for Scottish Secure Tenants’ is available in online from the Scottish Government website
You may also wish to consider taking legal advice or discussing the matter with your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Can I apply for a transfer or exchange properties?
Any Council or Housing Association tenant can apply for a transfer or to join a mutual exchange scheme. Most transfers and mutual exchanges take place locally, although there are also opportunities for social housing tenants to swap their houses for public sector houses in other parts of the UK. However these opportunities are quite scarce.
Applications by Council and Housing Association tenants for transfers within the Highland area are made through the Highland Housing Register using the HHR Application Form – for full details of how this works, see Section 1.2 above.
A Mutual Exchange is a mechanism by which two tenants can change houses in order to improve their housing situation. This can be done across Council boundaries or between Council and housing association tenants. In some cases, there may be three or even more tenants proposing to exchange houses amongst themselves. There is no reason why this cannot happen.
Tenants who wish to move can advertise to exchange houses by either displaying a card in a Service Point, Housing and Property office, shop or supermarket, or by advertising in the press. It may be possible for your landlord to help you find someone to exchange with.
Tenants can request permission to exchange with another tenant of any council or housing association. If two tenants agree that they would like to swap houses, each must put a request in writing to the appropriate landlord and not move until the landlords have given their written consent for this to go ahead. Before permission is given, the properties will be inspected by the tenant's landlord, and rent arrears and any other money owed to the Council or housing association (such as repair recharges or Court Expenses) needs to be cleared.
A mutual exchange request from a tenant who has only just been allocated a property and hasn't moved in can still be considered. Landlords will not unreasonably refuse permission for a mutual exchange of your house. The exchange must be with another house where the tenant is also a tenant of a local authority landlord, a registered social landlord, a water authority or sewerage authority.
The other landlord must also agree to the exchange. Reasonable grounds for refusing permission include the following:
- we have served a notice on you warning that we may seek eviction on certain grounds because of your conduct;
- we have obtained an order for your eviction;
- your house was let to you because of your employment with your landlord;
- your house was designed or adapted for persons with special needs and if the exchange was allowed, there would be no person living in the house who required those designs or adaptations;
- the other house is substantially larger than you and your family need or it is not suitable for the needs of you and your family;
- the proposed change would lead to the criminal offence of overcrowding.
You cannot move into the new house until you have permission from your landlord and new leases have been signed.
If you want to find out more about mutual exchanges, please contact your local Area Housing Office – contact details in Appendix A
There are also some websites e.g. Homeswapper http://www.homeswapper.co.uk/ or UKhomeswap www.ukhomeswap.co.uk where you can advertise your property or search for suitable property – however, there may be a charge for this.
What is Tenant Participation?
Tenant Participation can be a number of different things. It can mean getting involved in a tenants or residents association in your area, attending a one off public meeting on a particular topic, joining a focus group for developing a particular aspect of service, being involved in developing and monitoring your landlord’s Tenant Participation Strategy, or more straightforwardly, simply taking time to share your opinion by survey or questionnaire.
‘Tenant Participation is a two way process which involves the sharing of information, ideas and power. Its aim is to improve the standard of housing conditions and service.’ (National Strategy for Tenant Participation)
The Scottish Government introduced legislation about Tenant Participation in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. This placed a range of obligations on social landlords to consult tenants on the standard of service in relation to housing management and repairs and maintenance, and on policies relating to housing management, repairs and maintenance, rent setting and collecting, tenant participation, and any service or policy development which is likely to affect tenants.
Why should you get involved?
- you may have a view about the housing services provided by your landlord, you may want to make a contribution to change.
- you may want to improve the environment and getting involved can help you achieve what you want for your community.
- You may want to learn more about how your landlord is performing as a landlord, you may be interested in receiving more detailed information that will help your understanding of how services are delivered and about the standards they are delivered to.
- you may be interested in the future of services, you may find it useful to be aware of areas of service that are being reviewed, and may have an interest in taking part in one particular area of interest.
- Equally, you may have an interest in how your landlord works collectively with tenants through formal decision making structures.
Further Tenant Participation information is available from the web-sites of each social landlord operating in Highland, or by contacting them directly by phone. Details of all HHR partner social landlords can be found in Section 1.2 and full contact details are Appendix A of this manual. You can expect to obtain a copy of their Tenant Participation Strategy or Policy free of charge.
How much rent will I pay for my house?
With the Council
Rents vary according to the size and the type of the property, and if it is a new build since 2010. The table below shows the weekly rents* for the different sizes and types of properties in Highland.
Bedsit - £47.07
1 bed - £54.80
2 bed - £62.52
3 bed - £70.25
4 bed - £77.97
5 bed - £85.70
Bedsit - £51.19
1 bed - £58.92
2 bed - £66.64
3 bed - £74.37
4 bed - £82.09
5 bed - £89.82
New Build Supplement
Bedsit - £3.61
1 bed - £4.64
2 bed - £5.67
3 bed - £6.70
4 bed - £7.73
5 bed - £8.76
Anyone offered a tenancy from the Council will be told how much rent to pay in the letter offering the tenancy and again when signing the tenancy lease. Every tenant is issued with a plastic swipe card which allows them to pay their rent at a variety of locations including Post Offices and Highland Council Service Points.
Rents will increase annually, but by no more than the Retail Price Index (RPI) + 1%. At the end of February or the beginning of March, the Council will write to each tenant telling them how much they will be charging for the next year. This letter will go to each tenant at least 28 days before the Council starts charging the new rent.
It is a condition of tenancy that the rent is paid. Highland Council will give tenants the best advice and information on how to pay their rent and where to pay it. We will ensure tenants have up-to-date information on the benefits they may be due, and where they can get advice about money worries. Any tenant on a low income can apply for Housing Benefit to help them pay their rent. If the rent is not paid, Highland Council’s policy is “firm but fair” and while we will give tenants every help to pay their rent, we will also use all the legal options open to us, up to and including eviction, if the rent is not paid.”
With a Housing Association
Rents for housing association houses are generally similar to Council house rents. Rent levels for similar size properties, however, may vary according to certain factors, including the mix of amenities within the particular property e.g. what kind of heating system or size of kitchen it has and so on.
Average comparative rents, for some of the housing associations, are shown
Average Weekly Rent by RSL and Apartment Size at 31 March 2008
Albyn Housing Society Ltd
1 apt - £35.45
2 apt - £48.63
3 apt - £55.85
4 apt - £62.06
5+ apt - £70.65
Average - £55.35
Lochalsh & Skye Housing Association
2 apt - £48.89
3 apt - £53.07
4 apt - £58.62
5+ apt - £62.19
Average - £53.44
Cairn Housing Association Ltd
1 apt - £37.93
2 apt - £44.26
3 apt - £50.99
4 apt - £58.22
5+ apt - £91.92
Average - £52.14
Hanover (Scotland) Housing Association
2 apt - £49.46
3 apt - £56.14
4 apt - £60.07
5+ apt - £64.21
Average - £52.05
Key Housing Association Ltd
2 apt - £51.80
3 apt - £56.46
4 apt - £63.61
5+ apt - £80.03
Average - £54.15
Link Group Ltd
2 apt- £45.12
Average - £45.12
Lochaber Housing Association
2 apt - £50.40
3 apt - £49.90
4 apr - £54.39
5+ apt - £60.61
Average - £51.82
Margaret Blackwood Housing Association
2 apt - £54.62
3 apt - £63.33
4 apt - £71.59
5+ apt - £91.98
Average - £64.00
Pentland Housing Association Ltd
2 apt - £40.53
3 apt - £44.88
4 apt - £55.28
5+ apt - £62.88
Average - £53.09
Trust Housing Association Ltd
1 apt - £43.04
2 apt - £49.49
3 apt - £55.98
4 apt - £65.95
Average - £49.30
Highland (Average all RSLs)
1 apt - £37.90
2 apt - £48.24
3 apt - £53.04
4 apt - £58.63
5+ apt - £70.93
Average - £53.51
(Scottish Housing Regulator)
Anyone on a low income and paying rent for accommodation (whether from the Council, a housing association) may be entitled to receive Housing Benefit. This can be enough to pay all or some of the rent due, depending on a verified assessment of the applicant's income sources and levels. Local Housing Allowance is available to help with rent in the private sector. The majority of all the Council's sheltered housing tenants and around two-thirds of general needs tenants are in receipt of Housing Benefit.
See Chapter 6 on Housing Benefit and Local Housing Allowance for details of the application process and assessment procedures.
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