A safe place to call home is more important than ever, but thousands of Scots have been plunged into housing uncertainty. Covid-19 has had a significant impact on many people’s finances, leading to more personal debt, including rent and mortgage arrears.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish Government took action to prevent people losing their homes, extending the notice period for tenants of social and private landlords to six months in most cases and three months for instances of anti-social behaviour. These emergency measures are set to expire on 30 September 2020 but, are being renewed for six months to the end of March 2021, with the notice period for evictions for anti-social or criminal behaviour returning to the original one month.
As further protection for private tenants, the mandatory (compulsory) grounds for eviction have been made discretionary (i.e. it is now necessary for the Housing & Property Tribunal to be satisfied not only that the ground for eviction applies, but also that it would be reasonable to grant the order). The automatic right to get an eviction order under S33 in a short assured tenancy is also now subject to the reasonableness requirement.
In a further step, the Scottish Government published guidance for private landlords and letting agents that no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to Covid-19 and landlords should be flexible with tenants facing financial hardship. In addition, Private Rented Sector Landlord (non-business) Covid-19 Loans are available to assist landlords experiencing an interruption to normal monthly rental payments.
In the social sector, the government has said that any social landlord contemplating eviction will be challenged if this is due to rent arrears accrued as a result of the coronavirus. Owner-occupiers can apply for a three month mortgage holiday until 31 October 2021 or apply for a second one, with the Financial Conduct Authority issuing guidance that no repossession should be carried out before the end of October 2020.
Landlords may look to eviction as soon as they can after restrictions as a means of recouping their losses. 350 notices to leave were served between the onset of lock-down and August 2020. Both the courts and housing tribunal have recommenced processing eviction actions. Eviction is not inevitable. If you are in arrears it is very important to speak to your landlord or lender and advise them what steps you are taking and to get legal and money advice.
Many people are facing financial difficulties and relying on state help for the first time in their lives. The benefits system can be complex but the government has taken steps to assist tenants and owners.The Universal Credit standard allowance has been increased by £86.67 per month. And Working Tax Credit basic element is being raised by an equivalent amount for the next twelve months. There have also been increases in the housing element of Universal Credit.
The Scottish Welfare Fund, a safety net scheme for those in crisis, has more than doubled, bringing it up to £80.5m with the increase in flexibility and new guidance on how the fund can be used. Grants made increased 37% May 2019 to May 2020.
An additional £5m has been made available in Discretionary Housing Payments, increasing this fund to £16m in Scotland. These are administered by local authorities as a top-up to benefits for those facing financial difficulties with housing.
Also, a £10m Tenant Hardship Loan Fund has been announced, envisaged as a backstop once other avenues such as Discretionary Housing Payments and Scottish Welfare Fund applications have been explored. It is hoped this will be operational by the end of November 2020.
If you need advice on housing, benefits or debt, contact Castlemilk Law & Money Advice Centre on 0141 634 0313. We can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.