There are organisations that exist to provide tenants renting their homes privately with appropriate support and advice when they need it.

Two of them, the Tenant Information Service and Tenant Participation Advisory Service, were enlisted by the Scottish Government to deliver a series of focus groups to explore the needs and views of tenants during the formulation of the tenant-focussed draft rented sector strategy.

The now published A New Deal for Tenants strategy sets out the principle of going even further by establishing a tenant union.

According to ministers, there are some tenants who still feel unable to challenge poor or illegal practices for fear of the consequences, despite measures to strengthen rights and improve access to redress.

They are keen to consider how a new type of grassroots support and advocacy can be encouraged to empower tenants and actively support them to exercise their rights.

Understanding rights and responsibilities

There is a wealth of information on tenants’ rights already available under the Private Residential Tenancy (PRT), largely because of the requirement for letting agents and landlords to provide renters with a written tenancy agreement, Easy Read Notes or Supporting Notes and deposit protection information.

Further advice and information is provided on the Scottish Government’s own website, and by organisations such as Citizens’ Advice and Shelter Scotland (which some may say are already considered to be a tenant union). These have so far proven beneficial for tenants in raising awareness and understanding of not only their rights, but also their responsibilities.

By comparison, there is limited free advice for landlords within the PRS and most will rely on an agent or a legal professional to provide comparable support, if, and when, it is required.

There is concern among property agents that opening up another forum through which information is provided to tenants will be ineffective, especially considering there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that many don’t read what’s already available to them — until, of course, they have a bad experience.

The concept of tenant unions in this context has the potential to further amplify misinformation, which is often unhelpful and combative in tone, and not necessarily constructive in terms of the relationship between tenants, agents and landlords.

Practical benefit of tenant unions

If the government decides to pursue the idea of tenant unions, they must ensure they have some practical benefit. Members must have access to valid information and sound legal advice, and that means widening the scope of membership to include professionals with expertise and knowledge from across the sector. A union must also have a clearly defined role and responsibility.


Further to that, the Housing 2040 strategy proposes the establishment of a Tenant Participation Panel for the private rented sector which would enable tenants to ‘actively influence national housing policy and legislation’. But apart from a commitment to ensure that membership of the panel is representative of diversity within the sector, very few details were outlined in the New Deal for Tenants document.

While it is right that tenants’ voices are heard, it is not prudent to overlook the needs, rights and risk of letting agents and their landlords in any changes to policy affecting the PRS by considering their views in isolation.

Allowing one voice to drown out all the others may have the unintended consequence of exacerbating the difficult situation in which the private rental market is becoming entrenched, which is the imbalance between available properties and rising demand.

For more information or advice, please contact us.