Emergency coronavirus legislation set for six-month extension

Ongoing emergency coronavirus legislation could be extended for another six months, but it is still unclear whether measures to prevent evictions will be included.

The temporary powers were originally introduced in the spring of last year, but are due to expire in September.

The Scottish Government said it plans to introduce a new bill which would effectively extend this deadline until next March.

It would also give parliament the option of agreeing to a further extension until the end of September 2022.

Coronavirus recovery secretary John Swinney said any emergency provisions which were no longer required would be allowed to expire, and stressed that all of the powers that remain will have been previously approved by parliament.

In a statement to MSPs, Mr Swinney said the two pieces of Scottish emergency powers legislation that were passed by parliament last year contained “extraordinary measures which were required to respond to an emergency situation”.

These included major changes to how the court system operates, as well as provisions to keep businesses and public services running during the pandemic and temporary changes to the law for tenants and debtors.

Mr Swinney said it was now clear that some of these provisions “will be required after the current expiry date of 30 September this year in order to respond to the ongoing threat to public health in Scotland posed by Covid”.

A Coronavirus Extension and Expiry Bill will therefore be introduced to parliament later this month to “ensure that public services are able to discharge their functions”, he added.

The government will aim to pass the new legislation before Holyrood takes a break for the summer recess at the end of this month.

The regulations in place to protect people from eviction proceedings currently only apply to areas subject to level 3 or 4 restrictions. Mr Swinney said last month that further measures to protect people from eviction proceedings were “under close consideration”.

Responding to yesterday’s announcement, Scottish Labour repeated its call for the Scottish Government to extend the eviction ban

Deputy leader Jackie Baillie warned that many are still in a precarious financial situation due to the pandemic, and called for an extension of the eviction ban for people living in level 1 and 2 areas to be included in the forthcoming coronavirus bill. 

Speaking in the chamber, Ms Baillie said: “Everyone would agree that this has been a tough year. Key elements of the coronavirus legislation have provided a safety net for those struggling to get by because of the impact of the pandemic. 

“People who are struggling to keep out of debt or keep a roof over their heads must be protected. As the furlough scheme unwinds, more people may lose their jobs and will struggle to make ends meet. 

“The cabinet secretary will be aware that eviction proceedings are already before the courts – 16 in Edinburgh yesterday and 28 in Glasgow today. It is therefore imperative that we maintain that safety net. 

“So, can the cabinet secretary confirm that he intends to keep in place vital lifeline protections including excluding evictions for people living in level 1 and 2 areas, and extending notice periods for evictions in a package of measures to make it more difficult for someone to lose their home in the new coronavirus bill?” 

Mr Swinney responded: “I give Jackie Baillie the commitment that the government will engage constructively on this particular question, recognising the seriousness of the issue that she raises and the threats that are posed to individuals as a consequence of evictions.”

Elsewhere, a planned eviction of a Livingston resident with a disabled son was halted this week following pressure from campaigners.

The Scottish Greens said the mother was set to lose her home despite accommodation which meets her disabled son’s needs not being available for three weeks but pressure from The Living Rent campaign supported by Hannah Bardell MP and co-leader Lorna Slater the eviction was delayed at the 11th hour to give her time to move her family safely.

Ms Slater said the last-minute reprieve shows the need for the eviction ban to be extended.

She added: “This family would have been evicted today if it wasn’t for the intervention of Living Rent, and I was delighted to join Hannah Bardell to support that effort. The fact their landlord was ready to kick this family out of their home during COVID restrictions and before suitable alternative accommodation was ready shows why we need more legal protections for tenants.

“It is unacceptable to evict people from their homes during this crisis. That’s why I called for the eviction ban to be extended last week, so situations like this would not arise.

“Housing is a human right, and if landlords cannot respect that it needs to be embedded in legal processes.”

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