With 14% of all households in Scotland now calling the private rented sector home compared with just 5% back in 1999, more people than ever are looking to the private rented sector for long-term housing solutions either through choice or necessity. This growth has led to a more diverse tenant base and, for a variety of reasons, many more private tenants now require extra ongoing or occasional support to access and sustain private tenancies. Following a review of this area – which included in-depth consultation with letting agents – we found strong evidence that many agents have tenants who need support but it is not always immediately clear or obvious where to find it. Some have encountered significant barriers when trying to help tenants access the support they need to sustain their tenancies, and it is this gap that we want to fill.

Tenants of social landlords are often more easily able to access budgeting, money and debt and welfare benefits advice compared with private tenants. The vast majority of housing associations and local authorities either have well-established in-house support or good working links into local support agencies.

Although there is a desire from many letting agents to meet the support needs of their tenants, capacity and limited resources can get in the way. This project will build on pre-existing good practice in the lettings industry and provide agents with the extra capacity they need to improve access and tenancy sustainment for tenants who need ongoing or occasional support.

As the Letting Agent Plus Development Officer for Shelter Scotland’s new Letting Agent Plus Project, I will be working with twelve letting agents from across the central belt of Scotland to design a ‘Letting Agent Plus’ service that sets out how agents can offer assistance to tenants who need this extra support. Six agents have already agreed to work with us on the project so far. They come from a variety of backgrounds including commercial agents, a social landlord subsidiary and a social enterprise.

In addition to offering one-to-one support, an advice helpline and access to free training and information for the participating agents, our pilot project will be looking at ways to improve referral routes to essential support for a range of tenancy issues. With more streamlined referral routes into support services we can avoid the costs of tenancy failure for landlords, agents and tenant.

If you are a letting agent operating in the central belt please get in touch with me by emailing natasha_miller@shelter.org.uk or calling 0344 515 2492 to find out more about the project and how Shelter Scotland might be able to help your business to better support tenants who have ongoing or occasional support needs.