The pandemic has highlighted the importance of home, throughout it we have been told to “stay home, stay safe”. However, as it drags on many renters are building up debt putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness. Shelter Scotland Advisors hear daily from those who have suffered a loss of income because of the pandemic and are struggling to pay their rent as a result.
There is more that needs to be done to support people to remain in their homes as we hopefully move out of the pandemic, and the emergency protections and furlough come to an end.
In this blog we summarise Shelter Scotland’s recommendations for what is needed to ensure people are able to remain in their homes and get back on their feet once the recovery starts. We don’t want to see people end up homeless at any point, but especially during and in the aftermath of a pandemic.
More financial support for tenants’ who have lost income because of covid.
The Scottish Government needs to set up a non-repayable grant fund to clear rent arrears built up because of the pandemic. The current Tenant’s Hardship Loan is failing the very people it was set up for. Since its inception, more than a third of applications have been rejected – the majority due to the applicant not meeting the affordability criteria to qualify.
Local authorities also need to be supported and encouraged to award Discretionary Housing Payments to help pay off rent arrears for households affected by the pandemic. However, these payments are only available to people that qualify for Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, and so a non-repayable grant fund must also be introduced alongside this.
The emergency legislation protecting tenants from eviction and strengthening their rights is ending far too soon.
We are still in the middle of a public health crisis, with no clear timescale of things returning to ‘normal’. The current Coronavirus (Scotland) Act that provides tenants with protections such as; extended notice periods, pre-action requirements in the private rented sector and making all grounds for eviction discretionary, will end at the end of September 2021.
A second Coronavirus Bill needs to be introduced so that renters continue to be protected while the public health emergency is still ongoing.
The covid infection rates are volatile and rapidly changing. This means that areas could move back into, or remain in, the higher levels of restrictions at very short notice – as we saw in Glasgow and Moray last week. The ban on evictions should be reinstated for all areas to prevent homelessness, for as long as there is a risk to public health. The pandemic is not over, and evictions and homelessness must be prevented at all costs.
We also have serious concerns about the ability of the homelessness system in some parts of Scotland to respond to the likely surge in evictions and homeless applications now that the eviction ban no longer applies in most areas. Allowing evictions to happen in areas where the homelessness system is unable to provide the services and temporary accommodation that people will need is completely unacceptable.
The rights of tenants must also be strengthened.
The social and economic impact of the pandemic will be long-lasting, and so there is a need to permanently strengthen the rights of tenants. We cannot afford to lose this unique opportunity to build on the progress made during the pandemic, rather than returning to the less robust rights that renters had pre-covid.
We welcome the announcement in Housing to 2040 that the Scottish Government is going to make the pre-action requirements in the private rented sector permanent. The intention of this policy is that private tenants are offered support and advice on their rent arrears before a landlord is able to seek an eviction.
How the PARs are currently working needs to be evaluated, to help identify how effective they are and any areas for improvement.
We are also asking that all the grounds for eviction in the Private Residential Tenancy should remain discretionary, instead of reverting back to mandatory when the emergency legislation ends. This would be a huge step forward in the fight to protect renters’ rights as the First-tier Tribunal could use discretion and consider all of the tenants’ circumstances when making their decision on an eviction case.