Scottish Government seeks support for renters

Scotland’s housing minister, Kevin Stewart, has appealed to the UK Government for action to help tenants affected by the ongoing pandemic.

By Neil McGrory, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 15th June 2020, 3:50 pm
Kevin Stewart has highlighting five key areas in which benefits and support for people renting their homes need to be strengthened. Photo by Gerrit from Pixabay
Kevin Stewart has highlighting five key areas in which benefits and support for people renting their homes need to be strengthened. Photo by Gerrit from Pixabay

Mr Stewart has written to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey, highlighting five key areas in which benefits and support for people renting their homes need to be strengthened.

These are to lift local housing allowance rates to make more homes affordable, to suspend removal of the spare room subsidy, suspend the benefit cap, suspend the shared accommodation rate for under-35s, and extend the backdating of benefits people may have been unaware they were entitled to.

The first coronavirus legislation passed by the Scottish Government protects tenants from eviction for at least six months, and it has also increased funding for discretionary housing payments from £11 million to £16m, on top of mitigating the bedroom tax.

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In his letter, Mr Stewart states:  “In this unprecedented crisis, the Scottish Government and local authorities swiftly took a range of steps to protect renters from eviction through extended notice periods and extension of mandatory grounds. We have also moved to provide additional financial support within our devolved powers and budgets.

“We are also supporting private landlords by offering loans and encouraging them to take mortgage breaks where available, although we know this is limited for some.

“We continue to engage with landlords across the rented sector to ensure that they are coming to agreements with tenants on rent arrears and signposting tenants to the range of financial support available.

“The Scottish Government remains committed to working collaboratively with the UK Government to ensure that the social and economic effects of Covid-19 are mitigated effectively and efficiently so that people do not face hardship or homelessness. We have set out the steps we would like you to take in various pieces of correspondence during the pandemic.

“The benefits system is an essential lifeline for many people facing or experiencing homelessness throughout the UK. Housing elements of social security remain a crucial part of the support required by tenants facing financial difficulty or homelessness as a result of the pandemic and remain reserved to you.

“The changes you have made to local housing allowance (LHA) rates are welcome, but fall short of what is needed to provide comprehensive support to people living in rented accommodation.

“In addition to our previous calls to lift the benefit cap; to scrap or relax the restrictions around the removal of the spare room subsidy; to provide more information to local authorities to help signpost available support to tenants; and to support quicker payments for discretionary housing payments, I urge you to consider further action to support people who rent their homes. This is an area where urgent intervention is required in light of emerging evidence of the inequity of support available between those who rent and those who hold a mortgage.”