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Scotland has extended its ban on tenant evictions until March 2021. The move had been telegraphed by ministers and came as no great shock. More surprising was that, unlike England, Scotland has also introduced a package of financial support for hard-pressed tenants.
A new £10m Tenant Hardship Loan Fund, which will open later in the Autumn, will offer interest-free loans to tenants unable to access other forms of support for their housing costs.
The move was announced by Scotland’s Housing Minister Kevin Stewart.
‘We already know that the pandemic has hit the lowest earners hardest and the Scottish Government has already put in place a range of actions to support tenants’, he said.
‘This new £10m fund, along with a further increase in our Discretionary Housing Payment Fund, will mean that no one should be left in a position where they cannot access support to pay their rent.
‘We have been clear that no landlord should evict a tenant because he or she has suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic. I fully expect landlords to be flexible with anyone facing such challenges, signposting them to the sources of financial support available. Tenants in difficulty should engage with their landlords and seek advice on the options open to them’.
Stewart also confirmed that Scotland’s emergency legislation will be extended to ensure no evictions can take place until March 2021. ‘However, since the initial legislation was introduced we have listened carefully to tenants and housing authorities concerned that a three month notice period is too long where tenants have behaved in an anti-social or criminal way. We are therefore reverting back to a one month period for repossession for such cases’.
A further £3m is also to be put into the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund which helps tenants in receipt of benefits – bringing the total to £19m.
Prior to the announcement, the Scottish Association of Landlords had warned that even though almost half of landlords had offered discounts to tenants affected by the Coronavirus Crisis, rent arrears had continued to rise.
SAL’s recent survey of members found that in the past four months 95 per cent of letting agents had lost an average of almost £10,000 due to the pandemic, whilst 66 per cent of landlords had lost an average of just under £5,000 each.
‘What landlords, tenants and the Scottish Government must focus on is how to sustain tenancies. Landlords should continue to be flexible and understanding, reducing rent and writing off arrears where possible for those affected by the pandemic, and tenants should ensure that their landlord is kept informed about changes to allow for reasonable solutions to be found’, said SAL chief executive John Blackwood.
Meanwhile the National Residential Landlords Association has been quick to call for a similar scheme for tenants in England.
Policy director Chris Norris said the NRLA welcomed announcement of financial support for tenants in Scotland, which had followed Wales’ lead. ‘We call on the UK Government to introduce similar help for tenants in England. The best way to prevent repossessions is to tackle the root cause by ensuring tenants are able to pay their rent.
‘Although landlords have been doing all they can to support tenants struggling to pay their rent because of the pandemic, it is not sustainable to expect rent arrears to build indefinitely with no hope of paying them off.
‘Once again the UK Government finds itself trailing behind the rest of the UK. It is time to deliver a similar scheme to support tenants and landlords in England’.
Unexpected support for an England scheme has come from Shelter and Citizens Advice.
The two organisations have joined with four others, including NRLA and the letting agents’ body ARLA, to call on the Government to introduce a short-term support package for tenants. The bodies want emergency grants and loans worth £270m to those who have fallen into rent arrears due to the Coronavirus Crisis.
For Citizens Advice, chief executive Dame Gillian Guy said renters’ incomes have been particularly badly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. ‘Despite the extension to the pause on evictions, many may still face losing their home because of events they could not possibly have foreseen. The Government needs to put in place dedicated financial support for tenants to help prevent increases in debt and homelessness. Such measures would also have a ripple effect, bolstering economic confidence’.