Extension of protections ‘give breathing space’ to tenants facing eviction
Charities have welcomed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s confirmation that the Scottish Government is looking at extending emergency restrictions on evictions due to the impact of coronavirus until March 2021.
When pressed on the matter from Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie at FMQs yesterday, Ms Sturgeon announced protections would be extended, subject to parliamentary approval.
The First Minister said: “That underlines the continuing commitment of the government to do everything that we can to protect tenants and prevent people from becoming homeless as a result of the pandemic.
“The protection against eviction that I have spoken about is in place right now and, if this Parliament agrees, it will be extended.”
The clarity follows a statement from constitution secretary Mike Russell the day before which confirmed that ministers will seek to extend the emergency coronavirus legislation from its expiry date of September 30 to March 31, but added that some of the provisions in the legislation may not be renewed.
Ms Sturgeon added: “We continue to work with tenant and landlord stakeholder groups to ensure that those issues are properly explored. Our clear intention is to ensure that nobody is evicted as a result of the crisis that we are living through.”
Shelter Scotland has been campaigning for an extension of the emergency legislation which was brought in at the start of lockdown. Writing to housing minister Kevin Stewart last month, the charity joined a coalition of other housing and welfare organisations to request the extension.
Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said yesterday’s decision is a big win for tenants and for the charity’s campaign.
She added: “The Scottish Government continues to show real leadership by protecting more tenants from losing their homes.
“This will give breathing space to thousands of people who’ve been hit hard by this pandemic, so they have a fair chance to deal with the work and money problems that have been forced on them.
“We want to thank our supporters who emailed their MSPs to demand action, and key organisations across Scotland who pushed for this outcome.
“This shows that when we work together we can win real change. We’ll keep fighting to stop homelessness and deliver safe, affordable homes for everyone who needs them.”
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said its statistics which shows a big rise in concerns about housing, particularly in the private rented sector, demonstrates the importance of yesterday’s announcement.
Data from the CAS network revealed that between February and July there has been a 22% rise in the proportion of advice given on housing and a 35% increase in the proportion of housing advice given in relation to the private rented sector. There was also a 300% increase in the proportion of advice on private rent arrears among all types of housing arrears advice.
CAS social justice policy manager, Nina Ballantyne, said: “So far during the current crisis, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 has given vital protection to tenants who are concerned about their ability to pay rent.
“We made clear to the Scottish Government that withdrawing it before the full economic impact of COVID-19 is understood would risk a rise in homelessness and destitution, so we are pleased to see today’s announcement and hope MSPs will support this extension when it is brought to Parliament.
“As emergency financial support schemes wind down, there is growing risk of a housing crisis.
“Whilst significant action will be needed to deal with the issue of mounting rent arrears, this would be the first step to ensuring legal protection over winter is extended to prevent evictions.”
This suggestion that further support is required for tenants was echoed by the Scottish Greens, which said the First Minister stopped short of committing to additional protections that are needed to prevent a tidal wave of evictions following the massive loss in people’s incomes as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr Harvie said: “The Scottish Greens have been pushing for greater protection for tenants for months, as every forecast shows this pandemic will cause long term economic damage to our most vulnerable communities.
“Extending the temporary pause on evictions beyond next month will help a little, but this won’t provide long term security for those in danger of losing their home, nor avoid winter evictions as the six-month notice evictions are implemented.
“I urge the First Minister to look again at Andy Wightman’s proposed rent freeze and a ban on any evictions arising as a consequence of arrears accrued due to COVID-19. To keep protecting landlords while failing tenants would be unacceptable.”