Within the overall process of setting up an accreditation scheme, there are a number of key decisions that need to be taken and these can be summarised as follows:
What is the scheme seeking to achieve?
This is the most important question in developing an accreditation scheme. To answer this in detail requires an understanding of the local private rented housing market and the major problems that arise in the sector. This will guide subsequent decisions on the type of scheme to be adopted (e.g. skills-based or property inspection-based), areas, client groups and dwelling types to be covered, and the relationship of the scheme with other forms of action. Subsidiary questions include: should the scheme be about recognising standards or raising standards, or both? If both, consideration needs to be given to possible tensions between these two aims.
Who will run the scheme?
Will it be run by the local authority, by more than one authority jointly, by a university or college if applicable, by an independent body set up for the purpose, or by landlords themselves?
What will it cover?
The coverage of a scheme may be predetermined – for example if a university and the local authority are acting to improve conditions in student accommodation. Or this may be open for discussion – what geographical areas should be covered, which landlords are being targeted, what types of property are to be involved? Will the scheme cover HMOs, and if so, which types?
What will the scheme standards cover, and what benchmarks will be used?
If skills-based, what range of skills and depth of knowledge will be covered by the training programme? If property inspection-based, will there be one set of standards, or a tiered system, e.g. a base set plus a higher level variant(s)? This is a crucial area for negotiation between scheme developers, landlords and other significant groupings.
If property inspection-based, will the scheme accredit landlords or their properties, or perhaps both?
An important related question is: what is the appropriate balance between management and physical condition issues? Can landlords put some of their properties forward for a scheme, or must they submit all of them? Should the scheme include or exclude agents?
How will compliance with scheme requirements be verified?
For property inspection-based schemes, will it be by full and frequent independent inspection, sample or random inspection or self-certification by landlords. For skills-based schemes, will it be by verification of skills learned by providers from a training programme?
What incentives will be provided to persuade landlords to join?
Accreditation schemes are voluntary, so it is up to those running the scheme to develop the right range of incentives, to attract landlords and properties into the scheme.
The best approach will depend on local circumstances, but this guidance reviews the arguments for different approaches based on the experience of those organisations which have successfully developed accreditation schemes.
The questions are fundamental and need clear and decisive answers early on. The answers will significantly influence the approach adopted, the design of the scheme and running costs.