Worrying rise in social sector evictions in Scotland

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The good progress made on social evictions between 2010 to 2014 has gone into reverse according to new analysis which shows there has been a 24% increase in evictions across Scotland’s social rented sector in the last two years.

Releasing its Evictions by Social Landlords in Scotland 2012-16 report, housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland says the figures are extremely disappointing.

And, in evictions where families were involved, the charity says they should ring alarm bells about local authorities and registered social landlords (RSLs) failing to adhere to Scottish Government guidance to act in the best interests of children facing homelessness.

Shelter Scotland also raised serious concerns in relation to social housing providers using the threat of eviction as a way of collecting rent arrears – illustrated by the big discrepancy between the 37,559 notices of proceedings sent to tenants and the 2,130 evictions that social sector landlords actually carried out.

The charity says the result is that many vulnerable families and individuals may be put through stress and trauma of legal action and the threat of losing their home unnecessarily.

Alison Watson, deputy director of Shelter Scotland, says:

“These figures are extremely disappointing and should raise alarm bells about the way local authorities may be treating some of their most vulnerable and struggling tenants.

“Shelter Scotland has been campaigning for many years for a reduction in the number of eviction actions over rent arrears in the social rented sector. We strongly believe that forcing someone to leave their home should only ever be an absolute last resort.

“We believe these figures on social landlord evictions show that a fundamental shift is needed in how rent arrears are managed. Tenants must always prioritise and take responsibility for paying their rent, but eviction is a very crude and inefficient way of dealing with rent arrears of tenants who often struggle with complex social and financial issues.

“Evicting families from their homes is also at odds with social landlords’ statutory responsibilities to prevent and tackle homelessness and to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In particular, it is doubtful whether most evictions of families are in line with the Scottish Government’s guidance to act in the best interests of children facing homelessness.

“Eviction can put children’s wellbeing at risk by potentially pushing them into temporary housing, which can be of variable quality, where they might be forced to move away from their school, friends, family members and general support system.”

Alison Watson added: “As well as the devastating effect that losing a home can have on individuals and families, evicting a family for rent arrears of relatively low amounts is very costly. The bill for court and legal fees, lost rent and the cost of a homelessness application can run into several thousand pounds.

“Instead, providing proactive, and early intervention, money and debt advice and helping tenants set up realistic repayment plans would benefit not only the tenant but also wider society and the public purse.

“Tenants must make every effort to meet their tenancy obligations by paying rent on time. But it is vital that social sector tenants are offered advice on debt and money issues as soon as they start to struggle. This way, arrears can be significantly reduced and more families and individuals can keep their home.”

Shelter Scotland want all social landlords to stop using the threat of eviction for tenants in rent arrears. A decision to evict because of rent arrears, especially for families, must be an absolute last resort and balanced against the duty to prevent homelessness and to protect children’s well-being.

Shelter Scotland want the Scottish Government to urgently review how legal duties for landlords to carry out pre-action requirements before seeking eviction for rent arrears are working. Early face-to-face intervention and advice with a focus on alternative ways to recover debt should be available to all social tenants before crisis intervention is needed.