Following calls for direct financial support to tenants who are falling into rent arrears due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish Government has established a £10 million Tenant Hardship Loan Fund.
Part of a wider package, the fund will offer interest-free loans to tenants who can’t access other forms of support for their rent payments. The Tenant Hardship Loan Fund will be available later in the autumn and the details of how to apply will follow in due course.
The Scottish Government is also to increase the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) fund, which supports tenants in receipt of benefits, by £3 million to bring it to £19 million in total. This is in addition to the £60 million DHP budget already being used to fully mitigate the bedroom tax.
Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart said: “Tackling inequality and supporting people is a central theme of this year’s Programme for Government and this package of support for tenants is part of that.
“We already know that the pandemic has hit the lowest earners hardest and the Scottish Government has already put in place a range of actions in place to support tenants.
“This new £10m fund, along with a further increase in our Discretionary Housing Payment funds, will mean that no one should be left in a position where they cannot access support to pay their rent. The intention is that this fund will open in November for those unable to access other forms of support to help meet their housing costs.”
“Additional support in grant form” needed
Commenting on the financial support offered to tenants, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL), John Blackwood said: “We have consistently supported measures to help tenants pay their rent and prevent arrears whilst urging landlords to continue to be flexible and understanding, reducing rent and writing off arrears where possible for those affected by the pandemic.
“We welcome the Tenants Hardship Loan Fund but are concerned tenants will rightly be cautious of accessing a loan that would add to their debt, a concern we also expressed with the Landlord Loan Scheme. We hope the Scottish Government will consider additional support in grant form to help tenants pay their rent and prevent us facing a greatly amplified problem for a key part of the housing sector down the line.”
Coronavirus emergency legislation to be extended till March 2021
The announcement comes as the Scottish Government is planning on extending the coronavirus emergency legislation which protects private and social tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 crisis. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act ensures tenants can’t be evicted before the end of September and this will now be extended for a further six month to March 2021, pending approval from the Scottish Parliament.
New regulations will also be introduced to allow for the notice period for evictions for anti-social or criminal behaviour to return back from three to just one month.
Mr Stewart commented: “We have been clear that no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic. I fully expect landlords to be flexible with anyone facing such challenges, signposting them to the sources of financial support available, and tenants in difficulty should engage with their landlord and seek advice on the options open to them.
“I can confirm today that emergency legislation will be extended to ensure no evictions can take place until March 2021. However, since the initial legislation was introduced we have listened carefully to tenants and housing authorities concerned that a three month notice period is too long where tenants have behaved in an anti-social or criminal way. We are therefore reverting back to a one month period for repossession for such cases to ensure we can protect other tenants, neighbours and landlords who should not have to tolerate such behaviour.”