Last updated 17March 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already led to job losses and reduced incomes for many, making it hard for some tenants to pay their rent. The Scottish and UK Governments have taken measures to support Scottish tenants and landlords during the pandemic. This blog summarises these measures.
Protection from eviction
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (‘the 2020 Act’) aims to protect tenants living in social and private renting from eviction by:
- Extending notice periods. All landlords need to give their tenants notice to end their tenancy (for example, if tenants don’t pay their rent). How much notice is required depends on the type of tenancy and the reason (‘the ground’) the landlord wants to end the tenancy. The 2020 Act temporarily extends most notice periods up to six months. However, from 3 October 2020, the notice period for eviction cases involving antisocial and criminal behaviour reverted back to the original one month/28 days’ notice period.
- Making all grounds for eviction in the private rented sector discretionary. If a tenant has not moved out at the end of the notice period, the landlord will need to get an eviction order from the First-Tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber). Previously, some eviction grounds were mandatory, i.e. the Tribunal had to grant an eviction order if the grounds were met. Now, the Tribunal can use its discretion in all eviction cases and decide if it’s reasonable for an eviction to take place. This will allow the Tribunal to consider all the circumstances of the case.
These changes do not ban evictions. What they do is give tenants time to apply for, and receive, any support they might be entitled to (see below), to help pay their rent in the short term. It also allows tenants the time to plan for the longer term, if necessary.
These measures apply to notices served on, or after, 7 April 2020 to 30 September 2021 (the measures were initially due to end on 30 September 2020 but have been extended twice).
The 2020 Act does not change the fact that tenants still need to pay their rent. It also doesn’t include anything on rent arrears. Landlords can still pursue the tenant for payment of rent arrears.
Private landlords will have to comply with pre-action requirements if they want to evict a tenant for rent arrears, where all or part of the arrears accrued on, or after, 27 May 2020. These requirements apply where the landlord serves a notice to end a tenancy on, or after, 7 April 2020 and an application is then made to the Tribunal to repossess a property on the grounds of rent arrears from 6 October 2020.
Pre-action requirements already apply in social housing and mean that landlords must make reasonable efforts to work with tenants to manage arrears. The Scottish Government has published guidance for private landlords on pre-action requirements. The requirements include, for example, providing tenants with information about their rights and providing details of free and independent sources of debt help and advice.
Ban on enforcement of eviction actions
Since 11 December 2020, eviction enforcement actions have been banned. This means that sheriff officers can’t remove a household from a property, after a court or Tribunal order has been made, while the ban is in place. There is an exception where the eviction is taking place because of antisocial or criminal behaviour or domestic abuse.
Other parts of the eviction process can still go ahead:
- landlords can still serve a notice to end a tenancy on tenants,
- the Tribunal or courts can decide on eviction cases, and
- eviction orders can still be granted.
This eviction ban was due to end on 22 January 2021 but has since been extended. It will apply in Level 3 and Level 4 areas until 30 September 2021, subject to review every 3 weeks.
What support is available to tenants and landlords?
Any tenant who is having trouble paying their rent should speak to their landlord. Tenants should also find out if they are entitled to any social security benefits to help pay their rent.
The Scottish and UK governments have also taken the following measures to help support tenants and landlords, including:
- The Scottish Government increasing the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) budget. DHPs are available to people eligible for housing benefit/housing costs element of Universal Credit to help pay their rent. Councils administer DHPs.
- The Scottish Government establishing a new £10m Tenant Hardship Loan fund. This provides interest free loans to support those struggling to meet their rent costs due to the pandemic.
- The UK Government increasing the Local Housing Allowance rates in 20/21 (these will stay the same in 21/22). This is the maximum housing benefit that can be paid to tenants living in private rented housing, although it still only covers the cost of housing at the lower end of the market.
- Landlords with tenants experiencing financial difficulties due to the pandemic have been able to apply for a mortgage payment holiday. The deadline for applying has been extended to 31 March 2020. Other tailored support may be available
- Private landlords unable to take a mortgage holiday may be able to apply to the Scottish Government’s landlord Covid-19 loan support scheme.
The Scottish Government has published a range of guidance for tenants and landlords on its website.
Impact of the pandemic on the rented housing sector
Social landlords’ rent arrears are increasing. Between March 2020 and January 2021, rent arrears increased by 13% to £165m. Some social landlords are concerned about the longer-term impact of increasing arrears on their tenants and their own future investment plans. Rather than extending the six month notice period for arrears cases until September 2021 (as the Scottish Government has done), social landlords’ representative groups, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and Glasgow West of Scotland Forum, had both lobbied for the notice periods for arrears cases to be reduced to three months to support a phased return to the original position of one month.
The situation in the private rented sector is less clear. There is not any consistent data on rent arrears in private rented housing. However, a Scottish Association of Landlords survey revealed that some of its members had experienced financial loss as a result of the pandemic and that arrears were rising. Some landlords are offering discounts to tenants affected by COVID-19. As of 20 January 2021, the Tribunal had received 59 applications that fall within the scope of the emergency legislation.
While the package of measures will undoubtedly help some tenants and landlords during the pandemic, pressures may mount as time goes on. The ending of the job retention scheme could lead to more job losses and further pressures on tenants’ incomes. Financial pressures could also result in some private landlords leaving the market. The longer-term impact of the pandemic on the tenants, landlords and the wider housing market remains to be seen.
Kate Berry, Senior Researcher, Housing