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Thousands of Scots tenants could be homeless in next six months, charity warns

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Shelter have called for a number of amendments to be made to legislation going through the Scottish Parliament this week.

Shelter Scotland has warned loopholes in the proposed Scottish Government eviction ban and rent freeze could see thousands of tenants homeless over next six months.   

The housing and homelessness charity has broadly welcomed the publication of emergency legislation designed to protect tenants but warns that loopholes allowing social tenants with relatively modest rent arrears to be evicted miss the mark.  

The charity has identified three key flaws in the legislation that could lead to more tenants becoming homeless before March 2023.  

Two of the loopholes could see private tenants who have never missed a payment being made homeless if their landlord or landlord's mortgage lender needs to sell the property.  

The third issue relates to an exemption to the eviction moratorium for social tenants with arrears of more than £2,250. 

Post-covid this relates around one third of the level seen in court actions already underway and well below the threshold where most social landlords give up on securing tenancy sustainment plans. 

Shelter Scotland said it would be urging MSPs to amend these provisions in the Bill to ensure the promise of protection from rent rises and eviction is delivered for those most at risk of becoming homeless. 

Shelter Scotland also highlighted that this Bill will not address the needs of those people already homeless in Scotland, especially the 8,538 children trapped in temporary accommodation. 

Assistant director of Shelter Scotland, Gordon MacRae, said: “At Shelter Scotland we want this emergency legislation to work for those most at risk of losing their home. We know that the cost of an eviction in the social sector can be around £24,000. So, it makes little sense to set the exemption at a level of rent arrears well below that at which most social landlords would take a tenant to court. 

“Deleting this exemption or raising the threshold would recognise the hard work of tenancy sustainment officers, advice bodies and tenants who work to tackle arrears and avoid costly evictions into homelessness. 

“Private tenants must not face homelessness when they have paid their rent, but their landlord has fallen on hard times. During this emergency period sales of properties by landlords or lenders should only be permitted with the tenant remaining in their home. 

“Where possible social landlords and Scottish Ministers could offer to buy the property where open market sale is not possible with a tenant in place as part of the Scottish Government’s affordable housing programme.   

“We believe amending the bill to protect more families from the risk of homelessness is the right priority during this exceptional time. 

 “However, when the ink is dry on this Bill, Scotland’s housing emergency will remain just as grim as it was before. This bill does nothing for the record number of children stuck in temporary accommodation, denied their right to somewhere permanent and safe to call home.  

“Focus must now turn to the longer-term spending choices of the Scottish Government. To really tackle the housing emergency Nicola Sturgeon needs to deliver Shelter Scotland’s action plan by buying or building 38,500 social homes by 2026, fully funding local homelessness services and guaranteeing anyone who becomes homeless their right to a home.”

The calls follow the bill’s publication, which is being discussed by MSPs this week as emergency legislation seekin to increase protection for tenants from rent rises and eviction action during the cost of living crisis.

Tenants’ Rights Minister Patrick Harvie said: “The cost-of-living crisis is an emergency situation demanding an emergency response. Even as energy, food bills and other day-to-day basics become more expensive, today’s legislation freezing rents and protecting tenants from eviction will give tenants stability in their homes and confidence about their housing costs.

“People who rent their homes are more likely to live in poverty or be on low incomes than homeowners. As such they are particularly exposed to rising prices, and it is imperative that we bring in support for them urgently.

“We know that many landlords have been doing what they can to protect their tenants, but some tenants are being hit with large rent increases that are hard to justify. This legislation aims to protect all tenants from substantial increases, balancing the protections that are urgently needed for tenants with safeguards for those landlords who may also be impacted by the cost crisis.”