Consultation Response: A Strategy for the Private Rented Sector

By: Shelter Scotland
Published: July 2012

Consultation Response: A strategy for the private rented sector

Shelter Scotland shares the Scottish Government’s overall vision for a Private Rented Sector (PRS) that can play a greater role in meeting housing need. The proportion of households in the PRS has more than doubled in Scotland in the last ten years, and it is expected that the demand will grow further in the future especially from families, young people and low income households.

To meet this growing demand for homes in the PRS, it is vital that problems in the sector are addressed. This Strategy presents an opportunity to review the functioning of the sector and ensure that the right framework is in place to allow it to evolve to become fit for the twenty-first century. To achieve this, the Strategy must be bold and ambitious in its scope.
The central goal of the Strategy should be the aim of increasing consumer confidence in renting. To achieve this, four central issues must be addressed, how to ensure that tenants and landlords understand their respective rights and obligations, how to give tenants more stability and security, how to find a more effective way of settling housing disputes and how to ensure that regulation deals with the worst performing landlords.

Reform of the PRS by the Scottish Government should, therefore, focus on:
- Better information and access to advice for tenants and landlords about their rights and obligations
- Reform of the tenancy regime to give tenants more security from eviction, if for example, they seek higher standards or redress
- Quicker and less bureaucratic dispute resolution for tenants across the sector.
- Better targeted and more effective regulation

If all elements are pursued, tenants themselves will be in a better position to drive up standards among landlords, enabling public authorities to focus enforcement activity on the most difficult cases.

Informed tenants are better consumers in the rental market. Tenants who know and understand what services they can expect from their landlord, what constitutes a ‘fair deal’, the rights they have and how these are protected, where they can turn if things go wrong and their responsibilities as a tenant will help the sector to function more effectively. The forthcoming Tenants Information Pack provides an opportunity to develop a more comprehensive information strategy for private tenants that could incorporate a new ‘web-hub’ that brings together advice and information to support delivery of the pack. Shelter Scotland would welcome further discussion with the Scottish Government about developing this idea.

Shelter Scotland argues that there is a strong case for reviewing the tenancy regime to encourage a sector that can play a greater role in meeting housing needs. Private renting is valued as a housing option that offers flexibility to tenants. We would want to retain this element of flexibility but Shelter Scotland would also like to see private renting as a mainstream choice for a wide range of households who cannot afford, or do not wish to buy. The current tenancy regime creates a framework of insecurity which in the long run is bad for both tenants and landlords. Shelter Scotland considers that more secure tenancies would not only be a more suitable form of tenancy for many people but that they would also present opportunities to deal with a number of the key difficulties faced by the sector in its current form. More secure tenancies would:
- Encourage the development of the PRS as a realistic longer-term option for those households for whom stability is important.
- Foster more cohesive neighbourhoods and communities with higher levels of engagement from those living in PRS accommodation.
- Empower tenants to be able to use their rights effectively.
- Promote a more tenure-neutral approach to housing policy which is able to rely on the PRS to provide a viable third tenure option.

Shelter Scotland’s preferred option for creating greater security and stability for private tenants is to alter the tenancy provisions as set out in the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988. We have set out in more detail our initial thoughts about how the assured tenancy model could be modernised, and would welcome further discussion with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders about the details of this option, or alternatives that might be suggested.
To protect the most vulnerable tenants Shelter Scotland recommends streamlining the current systems of landlord registration and HMO licensing to create a single system. One option for achieving this is to establish a process of selective licensing targeted on specific areas and/or types of rented housing. Selective licensing could be part of wider area based regeneration initiatives that include improvement of housing condition and neighbourhoods.
Shelter Scotland support more comprehensive regulation of letting agents which could be in the form of a mandatory licensing system that sets minimum standards and through whom tenants and landlords could seek redress if the standards weren’t met. Such a system of licensing should be independent from the industry itself to give consumers (landlords and tenants) the assurance that their complaints will be dealt with fairly.

We need a more effective approach to dealing with illegal evictions in Scotland. Shelter Scotland would like a duty on local authorities to take reasonable steps to investigate where there are accusations of alleged unlawful evictions. This duty would fit more efficiently with duties on local authorities to prevent homelessness.

Changes to housing benefit levels and eligibility are already starting to take effect in Scotland. We suggest that the Scottish Government takes urgent action to try to mitigate the worst of the effects for tenants in the PRS. We have three suggestions for actions that the Scottish Government could take.
- Make best use of DHP to help tenants in the PRS
- Secure availability and access to shared accommodation
- Develop social lettings agencies in Scotland