United-Kingdom

Thousands at risk over Scots eviction ban loopholes

MATTERS in the Scottish Government’s eviction ban could leave thousands of Scots homeless, housing campaigners warn.

The Prime Minister first announced plans for an eviction ban and an immediate rent freeze for social housing and private tenants in September last year when she labeled the cost-of-living crisis a “humanitarian emergency”.

At the launch of tenant support last year under the government program, Ms Sturgeon said it “will aim to give people a roof over their heads this winter”.

But there are concerns that the eviction ban and a rent cap extended until September 30, 2023 will not prevent thousands from being evicted.

And there is further anger that ministers continue to “betray” Scotland’s poorest in the cost of living crisis by not applying rent caps to those renting from social landlords who could face rent increases of up to 11.1% .

The rent freeze announced by ministers was part of “the midpoint” of the 2022-23 Government Program (PfG), but has been described by critics as “a PR ploy” and “impotent” as it began after the bills went up and ended before they will rise again in April.

As part of the Scottish Government’s plans to expand contingency services to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, the rent freeze for private landlords would be replaced by a cap from April. Private landlords are allowed to increase rents by up to 3%, but they can request Rent Service Scotland to increase the figure to 6% if they have a valid reason.

The eviction ban and rent increase freeze were first introduced last October to help tenants with the cost of living crisis.

But housing campaigners have warned that the eviction ban does not apply to social tenants with debts of more than £2,250. It is estimated that the number in debt above that level would run into the thousands, as the average household arrears in Scotland are estimated to be over £4000.

Housing regulators predict rent arrears within Scotland’s more than 550,000 social rental properties will peak in 2022/23 at £169.6m at the end of March 2022, representing 6.3% of amounts owed.

The Scottish Tenants’ Association said the “massive loophole” meant tenants with “modest rent arrears could be evicted at any time by riding a carriage and horses through this so-called ban”.

READ MORE: Ministers refuse to take action over Scotland’s ‘outrageous’ £33m homeless debt

They added: “We are living through an existential cost of living crisis with thousands of social rental tenants and their families in Scotland facing the real prospect of homelessness and poverty with a rent freeze and eviction ban that will not protect social rental tenants in Scotland .”

Tenant group Living Rent also said it was concerned about the number of people who could still be evicted despite the ban.

Tenants can also be evicted when a private landlord has to sell or move into the property due to financial problems.

Aditi Jehangir, secretary of Living Rent, said: “The government must implement a comprehensive plan to ensure that tenants are not forced from their homes and become homeless.

HeraldScotland:

“Tenants who continue to be evicted are not only damaged by being evicted, but they are also forced to rent new leases, not subject to the rent freeze.

“The government should introduce rent controls that ensure rents are reduced and commit to building more social housing to ensure that housing is available to all.

“Social housing companies have agreed to raise rents by an average of 6%. But the agreement is not binding and social landlords can raise rents much higher, up to inflation. Even the Tories in England are proposing caps on social rent . far below this.”

Tenants’ rights minister Patrick Harvie has previously said the freeze on social rents will be lifted from April after the Scottish government reaches an agreement with landlords to keep the rise below inflation of 11.1%.

The Scottish Government said members of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Glasgow West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations had reported planned increases averaging 6.1%.

Queen’s Cross Housing Association and Maryhill Housing Association in the north of Glasgow have both proposed increases of between 7% and 9%. North Glasgow Homes have discussed an increase of between 6% and 8%.

It has expressed lingering concerns that Scotland’s poorest will face a heavy financial burden – having failed to benefit from the rent freeze anyway.

Nicola Sturgeon was told by the housing regulator in September that the rent increase freeze to deal with the cost of living crisis would not work as it covered a period when the vast majority of bills would not rise anyway.

Ms Jehangir added: “Social housing tenants are among the most vulnerable to cost increases and according to the government itself, 63% of social households do not have the savings to cover next month’s rent. Any rent increase will have a huge impact on tenants across the industry.

“We call for the rent freeze to apply to all tenants and for the government to invest more in the rehabilitation of social housing.”

Based on projections for the rental sector, the housing regulator estimated that a rent freeze in 2023/24 would remove nearly £60m of rental income that year from registered social landlords’ business plans.

The Scottish Government will be able to apply for a further six-month extension of the contingency cost-of-living provision after the legislation passes on September 30.

A group of landlords’ associations are seeking a judicial review in Scotland’s highest court over the decision to freeze rents and ban evictions.

The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL), Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and Propertymark filed a petition to the Court of Session on Friday seeking a judicial review of emergency legislation passed last year to address the crisis in property costs. address livelihoods.

The petition said that all three groups believe the law is disproportionate and unfair, with the decision to keep rent control for the private rented sector and to lift it for the social rented sector aggravating the situation.

The Scottish Government’s recent decision to lift the cap on social landlords means that an affluent individual renting in the private sector can receive financial protection not available to someone in more challenging financial circumstances in the social sector, it said. the groups.

In a nine-page document for the Court of Session signed by Lord Davidson of Glen Cova KC – a former Solicitor General for Scotland – the groups allege that the legislation has had “a material adverse effect on the income and wealth of landlords renting real estate”. in Scotland”.

HeraldScotland:

Mr Harvie said: “Our emergency legislation has given people – whether renting in the private or social rental sector – greater security within their current rental contracts, even as their other costs have risen. We recognize the enormous pressures faced by households, and therefore we have informed social tenants in advance of these changes and are confident that any rent increase will remain well below inflation.

“The voluntary agreements we have made with social landlords will keep rents well below private market levels and limit the increase next year, while social landlords can continue to invest in essential services such as home improvement and maintenance.

“Subject to parliamentary approval, enforcement of evictions will be prevented in all terms of office except in limited circumstances. In parallel with limiting evictions, we recognize that social landlords will continue to seek to engage with tenants to ensure making sure rent arrears are limited and don’t become unmanageable debts that people have to deal with.”

Announcing the proposals in September, Ms Sturgeon said: “In what is perhaps the most important announcement I will make today, I can confirm to Parliament that we will take immediate action to protect tenants in the private and social rented sectors.

“I can announce that we will soon be submitting an emergency bill to parliament. The purpose of the emergency law will be twofold.

“Firstly, this winter it wants to give people certainty about a roof over their heads through a moratorium on evictions.

“Second, the legislation will include measures to effect a rent freeze.”

The Program for Government document says the Scottish Government intends to “introduce emergency legislation to protect tenants by freezing rents and placing a moratorium on evictions until at least 31 March 2023.

“We also plan to take action to prevent immediate rent increases.”

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