Ending evictions

Green MSP Andy Wightman hails campaigning success on winter evictions but says more needs done.

I’m delighted that my West Lothian constituent Lors Robinson and family will not now be evicted days before Christmas after the First Minister agreed with my call to bring Scotland into line with England and prevent sheriff officers from being able to turf people out of their homes.

However, these regulations only last until the 22 January. This means Lor’s family still face uncertainty next month as their new home isn’t ready until the end of January.

What’s more, people can still be served eviction orders during period. We’ve already seen around 300 eviction orders handed down by the First-Tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) since the summer. And this represents an unknown proportion of actual evictions taking place, because many tenants who receive a notice to leave will simply leave. For some, that will be because they have found a new home elsewhere and are content to go. Others are simply not aware of their rights.

An eviction ban shouldn’t just be for Christmas. As I said last week, the pandemic has raised wider questions about whether anyone should be ordered to leave their home during a Scottish winter.

Despite the stellar work of organisations like Living Rent, Shelter Scotland and Citizens Advice, all too often, private tenants in Scotland are ignored.

Government policies aimed at controlling eyewatering rent rises – like Rent Pressure Zones and Mid-Market Rents – have failed, wholly or in part. Data on the actual rents paid by private tenants is patchy or non-existent. A coronavirus loan fund for private tenants was created only after external pressure was placed on the Scottish Government, long after the Scottish Association of Landlords had secured a landlord loan fund. And this latest temporary crackdown on enforcement comes very late after months of campaigning.

This is not about the behaviour of individual tenants and landlords. Many landlords have behaved admirably during the pandemic, offering rent reductions to struggling tenants. Instead, it is about the failure of the government to protect private tenants from having to leave their homes in winter, in this case in the midst of a global pandemic.

As a humanitarian measure, France bans all evictions between November and April in what they call the trêve hivernale, or winter truce. This ensures that people do not end up homeless in the coldest part of the year, and also makes it illegal for electricity or gas supplies to be cut off during this period.

Scotland still lags behind many continental European countries in tenants’ rights and politicians continue to instinctively protect propertied interests rather than the interests of tenants.

Looking at most normal European countries would be good starting point for Scotland to explore ways to better protect the dignity and rights of private tenants. Sweden, for example has a powerful tenants union with over 500,000 members and it collectively bargains rent levels on behalf of its members.

Everyone deserves safe, warm and affordable housing and protection from unjust rent increases, discrimination and unfair eviction. It is time to stand up for the human right to a home.