Martin Gavin: Emergency legislation for a fairer Scotland

Martin Gavin: Emergency legislation for a fairer Scotland

Martin Gavin

In his second blog as Scottish Housing News’ temporary special correspondent on homelessness, Homeless Network Scotland’s head of external relations Martin Gavin gives his take on the Emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill.

Homelessness is unlikely to be one of the enduring memories of this pandemic. That significant statement pays tribute to rapid action over the past two weeks by governments, landlords, councils, health services and third sector organisations in bringing people inside who were sleeping rough, and quickly putting in place additional protection for people most at risk of homelessness over the immediate next phase. Maybe our response to homelessness will be viewed by historians as one of the early success stories of how society dealt with COVID-19?

However, we are still living in the moment: with months of disruption and genuine hardship still ahead how can a legacy be avoided that speaks of an effective response to homelessness at the start of COVID-19, and then goes on to tell how we allowed it to creep back insidiously as months went by and the immediate danger passed?

The Scottish Government has published the Emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill to be considered in Parliament today, 1st April. A core part of the Bill is steps to avoid people being evicted from their homes over the coming six months, something Homeless Network Scotland and many other organisations have pressed for since the scale of the current emergency came into view.

Key elements of the Bill include the following.

  • Temporarily extending the notice period for all evictions to six months in most cases. Three months if the reason for eviction includes anti-social or criminal behaviour, or if the landlord or their family member needs to move into the property.
  • Temporarily changing private rented sector repossession cases going before the First Tier Tribunal to be considered on a discretionary basis. This gives members of the tribunal more scope to take full account of the circumstances of the tenant before reaching a decision.
  • Proceedings can carry on as normal if the tenant has abandoned the property.

It is intended that these steps support the security of renters across Scotland during the outbreak, allowing time to apply for and receive the financial support to ensure that rent can continue to be paid in the short to medium term.

It was inevitable that the pace and pattern of social housing allocations would be affected by the current emergency. With less housing turnover overall, RSLs like all workplaces, are affected by staff self-isolating, absent or remote working, impacting on the services they would normally provide.

Where this is the case we should respond with additional funding and support to enable RSLs do what they are so good at doing – providing people with the safety and security of a home. Indeed, there are examples already where small and large RSLs have implemented proactive, creative solutions to prioritise allocation of housing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

All these actions matter because it cannot be overstated how traumatic this time is for people who are homeless or most at risk of it. Not just the relatively small numbers of people with no roof, but the thousands of people in shared spaces, hostels, B&Bs – sometimes in unfamiliar locations, cut off from loved ones or with patchy access to information. While this virus connects us all, some are left significantly more disconnected than others.

The measures in today’s emergency legislation are compassionate, fair and proportionate. They further strengthen what’s already been done to prevent rough sleeping and protect people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Now, while still desperately seeking the right responses to an unfolding emergency like no other, in quieter moments let’s also start to think about how we keep the fairer, better Scotland we are creating – home has never been so important.

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