Six-month tenancies plan ‘could force women to stay in abusive relationships’

Womens aid picThe Scottish Government has been urged to scrap plans for a six-month initial tenancy period for private landlords over fears it could force victims of domestic violence to stay in abusive relationships.

Homeless Action Scotland has asked for an amendment to the Private Housing (Tenancies) Bill, set to go before Parliament next week for more detailed scrutiny, to allow “early termination of a tenancy” for those trapped in abusive relationships.

CEO, Robert Aldridge, told The National: “This six-month period could make it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships because they can’t afford to pay the remainder of the rent if left, plus a deposit on another flat.

“I hope there will be an amendment to allow early termination of a tenancy in the context of an abusive relationship and they will accept a one-month initial tenancy period if people need to get out quickly.”

Scottish Women’s Aid’s chief executive, Dr Marsha Scott, welcomed a move to increase tenant’s rights but urged the Scottish Government to consider the impact the lengthy tenancy period could have on women who experience domestic abuse.

She said: “Housing is a particularly critical area because so many women are made homeless every year as a direct result of domestic abuse.

“We support the increase in rights of tenants in the private housing sector. It is vital that women and children who are made homeless are able to have long-term security when they are housed in the private sector.

“Where women are forced to leave their private tenancy and become homeless as a result of domestic abuse, we would expect discretion to be used and discretionary housing benefit to be available.

“Ultimately, however, we want the Scottish Government to prevent women and children becoming homeless as a result of domestic abuse.

“They should not have to flee domestic abuse and leave their homes, and current housing options and processes need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency to address the issue of women and children’s enforced homelessness as the result of domestic abuse.”

Emma Saunders, of the Living Rent campaign, also said that the group harboured doubts over the initial rent term proposal.

She explained: “We are concerned that making tenants stay for a minimum of six months could have a disproportionately negative impact on women and children, for whom it may add to the financial burden of leaving an abusive home.

“The new tenancy type proposed by the Scottish Government contains a number of protections for tenants, however, it is important to make sure this legislation doesn’t inadvertently force people to stay in dangerous or difficult living situations.”

Central Scotland SNP MSP Clare Adamson has expressed concerns that the six-month initial tenancy period might work against those who are fleeing domestic abuse.

She said: “Being liable for a six-month period may put financial pressure on someone to remain in a home where they are at risk.”

The Scottish Government insisted that housing minister Margaret Burgess will take all the views into consideration during the stages of the bill.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government added: “The minister has expressed at all times that she is listening to stakeholder views as the bill proceeds through parliament.

“She agrees people should not be inadvertently forced to stay in dangerous or difficult situations, and welcomes the campaigns’ support for the protection to tenants this bill proposes.”

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