Citizens Advice Scotland warns of impending crisis for private renters
New data has been published which highlights an increase of renters in the private sector who have been struggling to make ends meet throughout the pandemic, with concerns that this could lead to more rent arrears and even evictions after Covid-linked support is withdrawn.
A new briefing from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has revealed the demands for advice from the CAB network in the last financial year, which shows an 18% increase in the proportion of advice given on housing issues, with a particular spike in requests for help with issues in the private rented sector (PRS).
The charity now fears that, with the winding down of furlough support and other protective measures, many tenants are facing a rent arrears crisis and the risk of eviction and homelessness.
According to the new briefing, in the year 2020/21, the proportion of housing advice given regarding the PRS increased by 28% compared to the previous year. Within PRS advice, the proportion of advice on rent and repairs issues increased by 4.8% and 5.5% respectively, while advice on arrears in the PRS has increased, indicating that these tenants have faced particular pressures because of the pandemic and need support.
Among its suggested measures to support private renters, CAS said the Scottish Government must ensure PRS tenants get support to keep their homes or move to homes that better suit them as we come out of the pandemic.
Ministers should also use the opportunity of the new Rented Sector Strategy, Housing to 2040 and a new Housing Bill to fix longstanding issues for renters that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, especially around eviction rights and disputes with landlords, the charity said.
CAS has also recommended improved transparency in the PRS through more and better data collection on housing quality and rent levels, as well as increased access to truly affordable housing across all tenures, supported by a better shared definition of affordability.
CAS social justice spokesperson Nina Ballantyne said: “This new data shows that many renters in the private sector have been struggling financially through the pandemic, even with support like the furlough scheme and changes to Universal Credit. Our concern is that as these protections are proposed to be withdrawn, many people will face a financial crisis leading to increased rent arrears and possible evictions.
“We’ve been working with government and other stakeholders to increase the amount of support available to renters, including extending the pre-action requirements which make clear how landlords should support tenants in financial difficulty. We welcome the new £10million grant fund that was announced in June, and we’re working with the Scottish Government to ensure it reaches everyone who needs it.
“We’ve also outlined in this briefing some other measures that we would like to see implemented to help people who are struggling and make the housing system fairer in the longer term. We’re asking government and other stakeholders to heed this evidence and continue working together to improve housing in Scotland.
“Meanwhile we encourage anyone who is concerned about their rent to seek independent financial advice – which is free from the CAB network.”
The new CAS briefing also reveals a number of other trends, including the fact that the proportion of housing advice related to environmental and neighbour issues has also increased, suggesting that these problems have become more common as people have spent more time at home during lockdown.