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Worrying rise in evictions in the social sector across Scotland

Published: 24 April 2017

Worrying rise in evictions in the social sector across Scotland

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.

Key points from the report:

  • Since 2013/14, there has been an increase in social sector eviction (covering local authority landlords and registered social landlords) across most parts of Scotland.
  • There are wide variations in the level of eviction actions across the social rented sector with some Local Authorities and RSLs not widely using the threat of eviction to manage arrears.
  • The positive action from some local authorities and RSLs illustrates that, despite continued cuts to social security, reducing eviction actions and engaging successfully with tenants is possible.
  • The majority of eviction actions are in response to rent arrears.
  • For local authorities they account for 95 per cent of all evictions, while they account for 89 per cent of evictions by RSLs.
  • Only 6% of all evictions are the result of anti-social behaviour.
  • Shelter Scotland believes that the increased use of eviction action in the social sector is likely a response to changes to social security, which have been reflected in changes to rent arrears management.

Local Authority evictions analysis:

  • In 2015/16, local authorities issued 25,956 notices of proceedings, took 8,871 cases to court, were granted 3,994 decrees for eviction and carried out 1,300 evictions.
  • Since 2013/14, the number of cases taken to court increased by 24 per cent, the number of decrees granted increased by 46 per cent and the number of evictions increased by 41 per cent.
  • In 2015/16, local authorities issued 2,332 more notices of proceedings than in 2013/14.

Registered social landlord (RSL) evictions analysis:

  • In 2015/16, RSLs issued 11,630 notices of proceedings, took 4,209 cases to court, were granted 1,607 decrees for eviction and carried out 830 evictions in 2015/16.
  • Since 2013/14, the number of cases taken to court decreased by 8.6 per cent, the number of decrees granted increased by 15 per cent and the number of evictions increased by 5 per cent.
  • In 2015/16, registered social landlords issued 62 more notices of proceedings than in 2013/14.
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