FEARS have been raised about a potential housing disaster in Scotland as the number of tenants facing legal action for eviction has doubled since a ban was eased leaving nearly 10,000 at risk of being kicked out their homes.
The soaring levels of legal proceedings come as the number of properties recovered in eviction proceedings over rent arrears has soared from six in the first three months of the year to 38 betwen April and June while the effective ending of the eviction ban over Covid in much of Scotland was taking place.
And new research from examining tribunal hearing records between March 25, 2020 and May 17, 2021 found that 244 evictions had been granted.
The investigation by Living Rent’s national secretary Meg Bishop found that 155 of the tenants had been evicted formally through the tribunal process having accrued more than three months of arrears.
The second most common reason for granting the eviction was because the landlord wished to sell their property.
Living Rent say all of these could have been enforced upon much of Scotland entering level 2 restrictions on May 17, when an eviction ban effectively did not apply.
On that date most areas in Scotland, except Moray and Glasgow, moved to Protection Levels 1 or 2, meaning eviction orders could be enforced. Moray moved to Level 2 restrictions four days later while Glasgow followed from June 4.
Meanwhile rent arrears have risen by nearly £8m in a year – from £149.99m in April last year, to £157.5m this year.
Ministers insisted families hit financially by the pandemic will only be thrown out as a last resort.
Official data seen by the Herald shows that there were 2411 notices of proceedings between April and June as the eviction ban was being lifted, nearly double the 1264 between June and August last year when it was in force. Councils and housing associations have now issued 9411 notices of proceedings in the year to June, 2021.
Ms Bishop warned the number of tenants who have been forced from their homes who had not made it to the tribunal, is likely to “far exceed” those that went to tribunal hearings.
Throughout the pandemic, the Scottish Government has claimed to be making generous affordances for tenants. As a result, they downplayed the severity of the evictions crisis underway.
“In stating that an eviction ban was in place, and by claiming that ‘no tenant should be evicted because of arrears’, the government tried to assure tenants that they would be secure in their homes.
“But there has been a real disconnect between the claims of the Scottish Government and the real experiences of tenants.
“There is an acute need to not just prevent evictions from being enforced, but to tackle the injustices that cause them in the first place.”
Gary Burns, communication and engagement manager for Homeless Action Scotland said the legal process around evictions would mean that the majority of these would take place in November and December.
“Scotland should be under no illusion that the spectre of evictions is anything but real. Despite the initial eviction moratorium and subsequent extensions, for some tenants eviction remains a distinct possibility,” he said.
“To this end Homeless Action Scotland call on the Scottish Government to call an emergency meeting between local authorities, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Law Society, Chartered Institute of Housing, trade unions, tenants groups, third sector and other interested parties to try and chart a way our of this potential housing disaster.”
“The complexity of the economic effects of Covid on income levels – particularly in the gig economy – and levels of debt generally mean that more people than ever before are struggling to make rent payments.
“There is no practical way to extend the no evictions policy ad infinitum so there needs to be an urgent examination of eviction policy across Scotland to ensure that no-one loses their tenancy because they simply can’t afford to pay.”
“Eviction has huge cost consequences for the public purse but the damage to those directly involved is incalculable.”
Sean Clerkin, campaign co-ordinator for the Scottish Tenants Organisation added: “With the furlough to protect jobs coming to an end at the beginning of October, the £20 per week uplift of Universal Credit being eliminated and a mass hike in energy prices, we will see a perfect storm of poverty and social distress resulting in a tsunami in homelessness in Scotland unless the Scottish Government reinstates the eviction ban in Scotland and implements rent controls.
“We are asking for the above mitigations to be put in place as minimum measures to prevent many thousands of tenants and their families being forced from their homes.”
Scottish Labour warned of the “first signs of a looming crisis”.
Last month business Scottish trade bodies warned retailers are facing a wave of evictions and disputes over unpaid rents when the notice period for commercial landlords to eject tenants is cut to 14 days from the temporary level of 14 weeks, lawyers and trade bodies are warning.
To help commercial tenants, including shops, cope with Covid-19, the Scottish government last year increased the legal notice period to ‘irritate’ a lease – serve an eviction notice – to 14 weeks from a fortnight.
This measure was due to end on 30 September, but concerns from various groups, including the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), mean it was expected to be extended until March 31, 2022.
But there was a warning that there is now a “ticking time bomb” of actions and evictions for tenants that have built up large arrears.
Temporary measures to protect tenants from eviction proceedings were imposed at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to protect tenants who had fallen behind with their payments after losing their jobs or being furloughed.
They apply until the end of September – but only in areas subject to level 3 or 4 Covid restrictions.
There is no eviction ban in areas that are in Level 2 or lower. Scotland is now beyond level 0.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are doing all we can to support tenants who are struggling as a result of the pandemic, with total support for tenants during the pandemic at almost £39 million, including a £10 million grant fund to help tenants who have fallen into arrears.
“Only a very small proportion of notices of proceedings result in evictions, and a social landlord will make every effort to engage with a tenant on arrears and offer practical support.
“We have been clear from the outset of the pandemic that eviction action must be an absolute last step which is why we welcomed the recent statement from local authorities, housing associations and private landlords which underlined the sector’s commitment to only taking eviction action as a last resort.
“We would encourage all tenants who are financially struggling to seek advice on their individual circumstances.”