Last updated 7 July 2021.
The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill extends the measures that the Scottish Government has introduced in Scotland to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic until 31 March 2021.
During the Stage 1 debate on the bill, the Scottish Government also announced that a new grant fund to support tenants struggling to pay their rent as a direct result of COVID-19 will be launched later in the year. This complements existing support for tenants and landlords introduced by both the Scottish and UK Governments.
This blog summarises the latest position.
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 31 March 2022.
The 2020 Act does not change the fact that tenants still need to pay their rent and landlords can still pursue the tenant for payment of rent arrears.
Private landlords 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. This involves, for example, providing tenants with information about their rights and providing details of free and independent sources of debt help and advice.
The Scottish Government has indicated that these requirements will be made permanent but it’s not yet clear when this will happen.
Eviction orders can be enforced again
Since 11 December 2020, there has also been a ban on the enforcement of eviction orders (except where the eviction is because of antisocial or criminal behaviour). This ban remains in place in all Protection Level 3 and 4 areas until 30 September 2021 (or if the Protection Level system ends before that date).
As the whole of Scotland is now below Protection Level 3, eviction orders can be enforced again.
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 measures to help support tenants and landlords.
- Increased 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 and are administered by councils.
- Established 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.
- Announced a new £10m grant fund to support tenants struggling to pay their rent as a direct result of COVID-19. This is due to be launched later in the year.
- Established the landlord Covid-19 loan support scheme, available to non-business landlords who have been unable to benefit from a mortgage payment holiday from their mortgage lender.
In addition to the furlough scheme, the UK Government also made temporary changes to the social security system, including how private tenants are supported with their housing costs.
Research has identified that people who rent their homes have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Renters have fewer savings and are more likely to have lost their job and been on furlough compared to those with mortgages. Despite renters employing strategies to prioritise paying their rent, arrears are increasing.
These factors have led to concerns about whether the end of the eviction ban, and the other temporary measures, will lead to a spike in evictions and a rise in homelessness. Whether this will happen or not is difficult to predict and will depend on many factors including how successful the above measures have been and the wider economic situation.
There’s been a mixed response to the Scottish Government’s extension of the provisions in Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill. Landlord representative groups have argued that landlords only take eviction action as a last resort and that extended notice periods does not solve the problem and can result in tenants building up further arrears. However, the proposed new grant to support tenants struggling to pay their rent as a direct result of COVID-19 has been welcomed. Private and social landlords’ representative groups have also recently signed new shared statements reaffirming their commitment to only take eviction action as a last resort.
The Scottish Government has published a range of guidance for tenants and landlords on its website for anyone seeking further information.
Kate Berry, Senior Researcher, Housing