Rent arrears fear for landlords despite pandemic discounts

Landlords are urging the Scottish Government to provide direct financial support to tenants who are falling into rent arrears to help the property owners survive the fallout of COVID-19. 

Rent arrears fear for landlords despite pandemic discounts

John Blackwood

The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL) has warned that despite almost half of landlords offering discounts to tenants affected by COVID-19, arrears are continuing to rise and could reach unsustainable levels unless the government takes action to help tenants pay their rent.

The membership organisation has published details of a survey of its members which found that in the past four months, 95% of letting agents had lost an average of almost £10,000 due to the pandemic, whilst 66% of landlords had lost an average of almost £5000 each.

The same survey found that 44% of SAL members has provided discounts to tenants, with the most common reduction given being 20% off the monthly rent.

The Scottish Government has issued a temporary halt to eviction for tenants who cannot pay their rent. However, plans to extend this ‘eviction ban’ has been criticised by the Scottish Greens who said the extension of the law until April 2021 will simply delay evictions rather than tackling the central cause of the issue with direct financial support for tenants. 

SAL believes that without government assistance to help tenants pay their rent, arrears will continue to grow, with many landlords and agents simply not able to sustain losses.

It is calling on the Scottish Government to use Holyrood’s existing powers to create new social security benefits and change the eligibility criteria for Discretionary Housing Benefit. This would allow more people to gain assistance with paying their rent, keeping them in a home, reducing pressure on social services and ensuring they can more easily contribute to the economy.

Other key findings from the survey of SAL’s almost 5000 members include:

  • 66% of landlords have reported losing income, with an average of almost £5000 each
  • 44% of landlord and agent respondents have provided a discount for tenants
  • The most common reduction percentage given by those reducing rents was 20%
  • 96% of agents responding have had rental properties void as a result of the pandemic

John Blackwood, chief executive of SAL, said: “What landlords, tenants and the Scottish Government must focus on is how to sustain tenancies. Landlords should continue to be flexible and understanding, reducing rent and writing off arrears where possible for those affected by the pandemic, and tenants should ensure that their landlord is kept informed about changes to allow for reasonable solutions to be found.

“But unless the Scottish Government uses the powers of Holyrood to put money in the pockets of tenants so they can pay their rent, we will find ourselves back here in March 2021 only with a greatly amplified problem and even less flexibility to find a solution that works for everyone, exacerbating the effects of the pandemic and economic downturn.”

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