Coronavirus (COVID-19): Private Rented Sector Resilience Group

Overview

The PRS Resilience Group was set up to tackle a wide variety of private rented sector housing issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is chaired by Citizens Advice Scotland and the Scottish Association of Landlords. 

Context

There are now 340,000 households in the private rented sector (PRS) - the sector has tripled in size since 1999. This equates to 15% of Scotland’s households renting from a private landlord or letting agent, with 70,000 families now renting privately. Of key concern is how many PRS households who are affected by the pandemic will struggle to pay their rent and keep their home.

In August 2020 62% of households with children in the PRS are in receipt of housing support - housing benefit or the housing element of UC.[1] We also know that a large percentage of people in PRS were already struggling and living in poverty – the percentage of private tenants living in poverty has in fact increased by 75% over the past decade according to Scottish Government data.[2] The data for the three-year period, covering 2014 to 2017, show that 280,000 people were living in relative poverty in the PRS sector.[3] The number of private tenants living in severe poverty after housing costs rose by two thirds (67%) in the same period.[4]

 Rent arrears data for the PRS sector is not available, but from the unemployment figures which have increased, and social security claims which have spiked, there is the very real prospect that when the furlough scheme ends, many PRS households will be unable to pay their rent. Latest Citizens Advice Scotland statistics show that between February and July there has been an increase in the proportion of advice given on PRS rent arrears (tripling from 6% to 18% of all housing arrears advice) compared to a decrease in the proportion of advice given on local authority and RSL rent arrears (decreasing from 50% to 38% and 30% to 25% of all arrears advice respectively).

Pre-pandemic the number of people who applied as homeless from living in the PRS was already high at 17% (2018/19 figures), which shows a disproportionately large number of people become homeless from this housing sector. Shelter Scotland's housing advice statistics also show that around 36% of the people approaching Shelter Scotland for help rent privately, an over representation which suggests private renters face considerable housing challenges. The latest polling from CAS also shows that there is a significant proportion of people concerned about paying their debts and rent. 27% of people in Scotland are concerned about making debt repayments during coronavirus with 25% concerned about paying rent.[5]

We are therefore concerned that as we move through and out of the crisis and into the post pandemic period, we will see an increase in people struggling to cope, especially once the furlough scheme ends. As a result, we will see a spike in evictions due to rent arrears from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This would put additional pressure on an already over stretched homelessness system. Chronic lockdown stress can also impact not only on income but on health and wellbeing[6]. There have been and will be health consequences of COVID-19, both viral and non-viral such as increased risk of physical health problems, mental health impacts, reduced access to health and social care services and increased harm from substance use. If evictions are not prevented these individual and public health consequences will be even more acute.

The Scottish Human Right commission states that the human rights impact of this pandemic have been significant and has been felt acutely and disproportionately by some groups; such as black, minority ethnic people, and migrants. The PRS resilience group recognises the need to consider the unique experiences of black, ethnic minority people, and migrants in our work, to ensure that we are actively aware and taking action on issues that affect these groups, and their experience in the private rented sector.

Objectives of the group

The PRS Resilience Group was set up to tackle a wide variety of private rented sector housing issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The organisations on the group share concerns, information and data on issues arising in the PRS during and/or because of the covid-19 pandemic and develop recommendations/solutions to address these issues.

Based on the evidence gathered and shared by the Group so far, it has a focus on the following key issues:

  • Sustaining tenancies and preventing evictions
  • Awareness raising about rights and support for tenants and landlords
  • Landlords - information and necessary financial support
  • Ensuring covid-specific and general safety in the PRS throughout the pandemic
  • Bringing void properties back into use
  • Improving links between PRS stakeholders, local authorities and relevant third sector stakeholders
  • Understanding and identifying opportunities to support tenant groups with experience of exclusion and marginalisation

How the group works

PRS Resilience Group is made up of a range of key stakeholders and meets twice a month

Chairs of PRS Resilience group meet with Housing Minister every two weeks with the other resilience group chairs to inform the Minister about PRS Resilience group concerns and recommendations.

The PRS Resilience group chairs then feed back to the PRS Resilience group what has been discussed at the Minister’s joint res group meeting

Governance

CAS currently chairs the PRS resilience group meetings but is seeking a co-chair to replace SAL which has now left the group

Scottish Government will provide:

  • Secretarial support to the group, developing a note of meeting discussions, an action log and drafting updates for political leadership.
  • Support connections across to the other resilience groups and relevant Scottish Government teams as required.
  • Establish connections to other work across SG and other partners as appropriate.

Notes of meeting discussions will be published once agreed as accurate by the group. Members from partner organisations are encouraged to participate in meetings to share relevant information with the group and support connections with other resilience planning networks and workstreams

Focus of the group for the next 6 months (Oct – March 2021)

The PRS “emergency period” has not yet ended. Further redundancies are on the horizon as the furlough scheme winds down, restrictions are tightened again, and potential impact this will have on businesses, Universities. The impact on the PRS will therefore continue affecting tenants’ ability to pay rent and possibly landlords’ ability to rent out their properties. The Group’s primary focus will therefore remain on sustaining tenancies and avoiding evictions.

With new PARs in place and a number of awareness-raising campaigns already in motion, financial assistance will be central to helping keep people in their homes.

In addition, the restarting of tribunal operations which means evictions will be happening again is of concern and the possibility of illegal eviction actions will be of ongoing concern to the group. In addition to this at the end of March 2021 the emergency powers regarding evictions will be due to be lifted and an assessment of the situation for tenants will be vital. 

Key priorities for the next six months:

  • Sustaining tenancies and preventing evictions
  • Financial assistance (UC, DHPs, SWF, Loan Fund, additional non-repayable funds for those not eligible for UC or DHPs)
  • Ensuring covid-specific and general safety in the PRS throughout the pandemic

At the end of this next 6-month period (end March 2021), we will assess whether the group continues to operate.

Members

  • Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS)
  • Shelter Scotland
  • Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL)
  • Propertymark
  • COSLA
  • ALACHO
  • Dundee and Glasgow City Councils
  • Scottish Government

Documents