‘Huge relief’ as MSPs reject plans to ‘extinguish’ rent liability

Holyrood’s COVID-19 committee has rejected amendments aimed at ‘extinguishing’ rent liability for social housing tenants during the current pandemic.

‘Huge relief’ as MSPs reject plans to ‘extinguish’ rent liability

Introduced today by Scottish Greens housing spokesperson Andy Wightman MSP, amendment 18 was described as “catastrophic” by the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF), which feared the measure would effectively send a signal to 600,000 social housing tenants that rent was no longer payable during the COVID crisis.

In a letter to COVID-19 committee convenor Murdo Fraser, GWSF chair Helen Moore said the amendment “would lead to many thousands of tenants who could still afford to pay their rent not doing so, leading to massive loss of income and major cash flow problems, and almost certainly to some smaller housing associations becoming insolvent”.

Mr Wightman also proposed amendments to introduce a two-year rent freeze and to have arrears built up during the emergency period disregarded.

All three amendments were today rejected by the committee.

GWSF director David Bookbinder said it’s “a huge relief” that the amendments have been voted down.

He told Scottish Housing News: “Whilst they were obviously well-intended, those backing them failed to understand how the message that rent liability is ‘extinguished’ could be interpreted by all housing association and council tenants and not just those ‘unable to pay’.

“The amendments also ignored the fact that social landlords have been engaging intensively to support and advise tenants whose income has been affected by COVID.

“The social housing sector will play a crucial role in getting Scotland back on its feet, but not if our income – which is already taking an inevitable hit – were to be decimated by £20 million or more a week, as could easily have happened if these amendments had been passed.

“We all understand why emergency legislation is needed in a crisis, but it effectively gives politicians carte blanche to invent their own solutions with little or no time for external scrutiny. That can bring with it unintended consequences, which in this case would have been catastrophic.”

Responding to the votes, Mr Wightman said: “Housing is a human right, and access to good housing is a public health issue, that’s why it is deeply disappointing to see SNP MSPs once again team up with the Tories to block clear progress on social justice. A rent freeze and a ban on evictions based on arrears accumulated as a result of this crisis would have provided much-needed security for people who are financially most at risk.

“Scottish ministers made no attempt to contact me to discuss my amendments despite being advised of them a week ago. This stands in contrast to the last piece of emergency legislation, when the SNP and the Conservatives stitched up a deal to help out landlords. It is very disappointing that they couldn’t bring themselves to afford a similar benefit for private tenants.

“The First Minister said she wanted to build a fairer and more equal Scotland from this crisis, yet her party seem keen to make it less fair and less equal.”

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.
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