The current COVID-19 pandemic is causing high levels of uncertainty and fear for people all over Scotland. For those who rent this uncertainty extends to the security of their home. Renters, particularly those on low incomes, are worried that they may lose their home if they fall sick or lose their job and become unable to pay their rent. Renter’s rights must be upheld during this difficult and very stressful period, and we urge you to share the link to information on our website to anyone struggling with their housing.
We welcome the measures that the Sottish Government is taking to improve housing security for tenants. The announced increase in the period that a tenant can be in rent arrears before eviction proceedings begin from 3 months to 6 months is a step in the right direction. The news from the First Tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) that all hearings and case management discussions are postponed until 28th May 2020, to protect tenants from eviction during this time period, is also welcome.
However, these measures do not go nearly far enough to protect renters, we are concerned that tenants will still be disadvantaged and risk losing their homes. Firstly, tenants who have the older tenancy regimes (Assured Tenancy and Short Assured Tenancy) are not protected under these new measures to extend the length of time tenants can be in rent arrears, it only relates to tenants under the new Private Residential Tenancy. The Scottish Government must make sure that these measures apply to tenants on all tenancy regimes.
In addition, there is no guarantee of protection from eviction for renters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic following the restarting of the First-tier Tribunal on the 28th of May 2020. We expect this uncertainty to cause considerable distress for tenants. There is also silence on the question of whether there will be any protection for tenants where an eviction order has already been granted, prior to the tribunal being suspended. These evictions may be going ahead, leading to people being made homeless during the pandemic – something which the Scottish Government has stated should not happen.
Despite the extension of the necessary period of rent arrears prior to eviction from 3 months to 6 months, tenants are not protected after this 6-month period. In our experience once rent arrears begin to build up, they can remain an issue for some time. A tenant on low income who falls into rent arrears now, is likely to still be in rent arrears in six months’ time and will then be at risk of eviction. We therefore want the Scottish Government to ban all evictions and all threats of evictions during this emergency.
The Scottish Government wrote to Social Landlords to encourage them to be more flexible and to provide support and advice to tenants experiencing financial hardship. However, we have serious concerns that this does not do enough. Relying on social landlord’s ability to be ‘flexible’ does not provide the security that tenants will require in this unprecedented emergency. Social landlords and local authorities should all move to a no eviction policy for social renters during this crisis period.
One of Shelter Scotland’s top priorities in this emergency is to continue to fight for the rights of renters, to ensure that no one in Scotland loses their home during this time. We have called for a COVID-19 housing and homelessness task force to be convened, and we are continuing to press the government to take more extensive measures to protect the rights and homes of both private and social renters in what is a time of unprecedented national uncertainty.