April 10, 2020 Blog, Media

Why Scotland’s renters still need more protection

We are living through an unprecedented period of uncertainty for so many people in Scotland. For those renting their homes, there are increasing fears of evictions as many struggle to pay their rent as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. While Scottish Labour welcomes the Scottish Government’s move to extend notice periods for eviction, we believe that this legislation falls short of what is required, and ministers need to announce financial support for tenants who need it as soon as possible.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act does not ‘ban’ evictions, instead it extends notice periods to give renters longer to leave their property if they are served with an eviction notice. For those renting in both the private and social sector, eviction notice periods vary depending on the grounds stated. If a tenant is asked to leave because of rent arrears, the landlord is now required to give six months’ notice.

However, if the landlord said they needed the tenant to move out because they or a family member wanted to live in the property, they would still only need to give three months’ notice. This is a worrying loophole that could see renters made homeless in half the time the new legislation intends. Meanwhile, anyone who had already received an eviction order before this crisis began will not be covered by the current emergency measures.

We believe that in this time of crisis, no one should have to worry about losing their home. While the shortcomings of this Act are not a deliberate mistake by the Scottish Government, it is vital that immediate action is taken to enforce a legal pause on all eviction proceedings to give renters the protections they need and to close loopholes that could be exploited by landlords.

But tenants are still being advised to pay their rent as usual despite this economic hardship. In the Scottish Government’s guidance for landlords document, it is advised that “there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach”. It says that landlords should be “flexible, and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants… to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward”.

Unfortunately for some, an unreasonable landlord or letting agency could still demand payment – and accumulating arrears could lead to eviction in six months. Renters who do not have the option of negotiating rent breaks or reductions could be left with debt when life returns to normal. The Scottish Government must work with tenant organisations and the housing sector to ensure renters are afforded the same level of support as homeowners.

I am pleased that Government Business and Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell has given me an assurance that the Scottish Government will look into ways to support those renters who are not covered by Government schemes or who cannot access Universal Credit.

For those renters who do find themselves facing eviction from their home, or seeking to move home due to changes in household circumstances, questions should be asked around what opportunities will be available for them to find a new place to live. At a time when the Scottish Government is advocating social distancing amidst a national lockdown, this legislation does not provide sufficient safeguards for those renters who are not protected by the emergency legislation, and face finding alternative accommodation during this difficult time.

One thing that is becoming abundantly clear is that Scotland’s housing policy will have to change once this pandemic is over. The economic and social effects of Covid-19 are still yet to be fully realised, and we must work together to make sure nobody is left to slip through the cracks.

No person in Scotland should be allowed to lose their home and become homeless because of this crisis, and nobody should be allowed to profit from it. I will continue to work with the Scottish Government and tenant and housing groups to make sure everyone in Scotland lives through this pandemic, rather than just survives it.