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Social Housing

As the social housing sector continues to evolve and diversify, working to meet the increasing needs of society for the provision of affordable housing and associated services in response to the Scottish Government’s ambitious targets, those operating in the sector require to deal with a wide range of often complex issues which require legal advice - from land acquisition, construction, procurement and finance through to governance, data protection, employment and housing management.  

At Thorntons, we have one of the largest social housing teams in Scotland, with our multi-disciplinary and vastly experienced team offering specialist advice to meet the full range of our clients’ legal needs. We understand that putting people at the heart of our service is paramount to our clients, with our dedicated team being on hand throughout our network of offices across Scotland to provide the support they need.   

Our in-depth knowledge of the social housing sector has been gained from years of experience in advising housing associations on all aspects of their business, having been closely involved in the social housing movement since the 1960s. This expertise has been recognised with the ranking of our Social Housing team in both the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners guides to the best law firms

We currently act for housing associations who together own or manage in excess of 100,000 homes and we have worked with several of our housing association clients since their formation, including a community-led group supported by a local authority and a tenant-led association supported by the local authority and Scottish Homes. We also undertake work for local authorities, including advising on the marketing and evaluation procedures required for the New Supply Shared Equity Scheme.

Members of our team are on housing association boards and Thorntons is an associate member of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. This, together with our firm’s community focus, adds to our sector awareness, helping us to fully support our social housing clients.  

How can Thorntons help?

Our Social Housing team can help clients achieve their objectives by the provision of guidance and solutions for all of their legal needs, including the following service areas.

Social housing is a heavily regulated sector, and we have supported clients through many significant changes, including transfers of engagements, group restructurings, the assumption of other charities, adopting new Rules and Standing Orders, and assisting in the appointment of new Chairs and Chief Executives.

Our knowledge of the current governance framework and of good practice comes from our close relationships with our clients, our team members’ experience as board members of some of Scotland’s largest housing associations, and our involvement with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and its working groups.

We have extensive experience of social housing finance in Scotland, having acted for housing associations of all sizes in successfully accessing all types of finance commonly used in the Scottish RSL sector. Chris Allan and Ewan Miller of our Social Housing team have over 50 years’ experience between them in acting for borrowers in large real estate lending, with recent £70 million and £80 million facilities successfully completed for clients.

With one of the largest teams in Scotland, we have the capacity and expertise to provide the level of support required to advise on loan documents and deal with the securitisation process in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Our team is on hand to advise on all legal aspects associated with the acquisition, use, management and disposal of a registered social landlord’s housing stock - an area we have been advising clients in the sector on for over 50 years. Our experience and expertise covers everything from planning and procurement to stock acquisition and development, transfers to other affordable home providers and shared equity purchasers, completion of deeds of conditions, mortgage to rent purchases, shared ownership tenure management issues, the grant and transfers of commercial leases, answering queries on title issues for existing stock and open market disposals of surplus stock.

With our clients all having active development plans for the provision of new homes in accordance with the Scottish Government’s Affordable Housing Supply Programme, we have extensive experience in delivering all types of acquisitions whether that be land with building contract or development agreement or turnkey purchases of completed homes.

Our team includes Graham Wilson with over 40 years’ experience advising clients in the sector and Graham Jackson an Accredited Specialist in Construction Law and the author of a legal text on the subject.

As processors of vasts amount of personal data regarding tenants, members, staff and stakeholders, compliance with data protection laws and best practice is integral to the operational practices of housing associations. This is particularly so since the introduction of the UK GDPR and risk of penalties being imposed of up to the greater of 4% of turnover or £17.5M. 

Separately from this, good data handling practices help build trust with the people registered social landlords interact with, therefore we understand the importance of embedding good data protection compliance practices. 

At Thorntons, our Social Housing Team includes data protection legal and compliance experts, who can help you with advice and practical support on complying with data protection legislation and best practice including data protection policies, procedures, privacy notices, handling data subject rights requests, personal data breaches and supporting training needs.  We also provide an outsourced Data Protection Officer service to housing associations. 

We understand the commitment of housing associations to their employees, and our specialist employment lawyers can work with you to deliver your employment aims. From setting up the right employment contracts and policies, resolving issues or dealing with employment claims, we can help you ensure the right working environment for your employees and that any employment law issues are dealt with in the right way for your organisation.

As social landlords, housing associations have responsibilities for both the properties they rent and the behaviour of their tenants, in addition to a wide range of contractual relationships that require to be managed.

Our team can help you with proactive dispute resolution and litigation support as needed. We encourage early intervention and can advise on options such as mediation and arbitration. We also have extensive experience of handling construction disputes.