Evictions by social landlords in Scotland 2009-10

By: Shelter Scotland
Published: December 2010

Evictions by social landlords in Scotland 2009-10

This Shelter Scotland report looks at the number of evictions across Scotland from the social sector looking at both local authorities and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) for the period April 2009 – March 2010.

Across Scotland in 2009/10, evictions in the social rented sector as a whole are down by 33%. This reduction is a significant improvement on 2008/09 figures. The fact that this comes at a time of more difficult financial circumstances suggests strongly that the reduction is due to explicit changes in policy and practice rather than changes in the environment.

Local authorities have seen a 29% reduction in evictions while RSLs have reduced the number by 38% compared to last year. There has also been a reduction in the number of tenants taken to court and the number of decrees granted.

The vast majority – around 95% - of eviction actions are for rent arrears and are often a symptom of wider debt and money problems or housing benefit issues.

In 2009/10 social landlords issued over 75,000 Notice of Proceedings for recovery of possession (NOPs). This suggests that eviction or the threat of eviction is still being used as a mechanism for rent collection which we argue is an expensive and unproductive way to communicate with tenants who are struggling with debt issues.

Despite a significant reduction at a national level there remains a great deal of regional variation across different social landlords, with some actually seeing an increase in their evictions. The wide spectrum of eviction rates shows the potential that all social landlords have to change their approach to tenants with arrears and how much impact a change in policy and procedures can have. It also shows that, despite improvements, more work needs to be done to ensure consistency across Scotland.

Social landlords still evicted 2,204 tenants in 2009/10. Apart from the ongoing social and financial problems for these individuals and families, these evictions, even at a conservative estimate, would have cost landlords a minimum of £13m.

14 of the 26 local authorities with housing stock saw a reduction in the number of evictions, and, importantly, saw no increase in their total arrears. In 2009/10 local authorities saw their arrears fall from £37.7m to £34.4m and RSLs saw a fall from £42.6m to £42.2m. This challenges the traditional argument that reducing evictions will lead to increases in arrears.

The introduction of legal protection for social tenants in arrears, through the Pre-Action Requirement checklist in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, is a very positive step forward in reducing eviction in Scotland. This legislation will be commenced in 2011, and builds on existing good practice based on good communication between tenants and landlords, focusing on early intervention.

The successful implementation of Pre-Action Requirements (PARs) will require good guidance from the Scottish Government and will be an appropriate place to collate and disseminate good practice examples from both councils and housing associations.

While a lot of progress has been made to reduce eviction numbers and the use of eviction to manage arrears, eviction is still common and, for the majority of tenants, a disproportionately harsh penalty. It is important that social landlords try to prevent homelessness wherever possible and a key part of that is ensuring that eviction is only used as a genuine last resort.

Over the past few years Shelter Scotland has campaigned for social landlords to reduce the number of evictions, particularly for rent arrears. In reaction to our first report 3 years ago, landlords questioned if there was more they could do since they ‘only evict tenants as an absolute last resort’ . Since 2007/08 evictions have fallen by 38% across the sector which shows this was clearly not the case. The recent fall in evictions also shows the potential for ongoing improvements and we hope that these trends continue in the future.

As eviction rates are going down, there is an increasing body of expertise around alternatives to eviction and tenancy sustainment from leading social landlords. These examples should be captured by the Scottish Government and collated as guidance to help prevent evictions.