Coronavirus Acts: tenth report to Scottish Parliament (December 2021)
Tenth report to Scottish Parliament on the Coronavirus Acts.
This document is part of a collection
6. Supplementary information
First Scottish Act
6.1.1 Section 2 and schedule 1 – Eviction from dwelling houses
Reporting on the status of eviction provisions and measures in place to protect tenants from eviction and any plans for further measures the Scottish Ministers propose to put in place to protect tenants from eviction
188.8.131.52. Section 6(1) of the 2021 Act requires the Scottish Ministers to report on: the number of notices of proceedings issued to tenants in social housing as a result of rent arrears; the value of rent arrears in social housing; and the number of evictions orders issued by the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland because of rent arrears.
184.108.40.206. Paragraph 1(2) of schedule 1 makes provision for all private rented sector eviction cases going before the First-tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) to be considered on a discretionary basis. As of 31 October 2021, the First-tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) confirmed that it had received 737 applications that fall within the scope of the emergency provisions.
220.127.116.11. An analysis of the decisions made by the First-tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) shows that between 8 July 2020 and 25 October 2021 there have been a total of 209 eviction orders issued relating to private residential tenancies (PRTs) where rent arrears were cited.
18.104.22.168. Coronavirus dashboard information published by the Scottish Housing Regulator shows that the total value of rent arrears in the social sector increased substantially from £150.0m to £165.0m in the four months between the end of April 2020 and the end of August 2020, an increase of £15.0m (10.0%). The value of arrears subsequently stabilised across most months since then, and then decreased in March 2021 to stand at £160.7m as at end March 2021. Following this the value of arrears dropped further by £3.3m (2.0%) to £157.5m as at end June 2021, but has since risen again to £166.2m based on latest available figures to end September 2021.
22.214.171.124. The dashboard information also shows that the number of notices of proceedings for recovery of possession issued by social landlords for rent arrears increased each month from June 2020, rising from 246 in June 2020 up to 1,514 in November 2020. After this the numbers decreased to 699 in January 2021, 875 in February 2021 and 934 in March 2021, following which there have been 3,641 notices issued in the quarter April to June 2021 (an average level of 1,214 per month) and then 4,417 notices issues in the latest quarter July to September 2021 (an average level of 1,473 per month). The number of court actions initiated for eviction increased from 30 in June 2020 up to 102 in September 2020, after which the number fell to 63 in March 2021. Following this there have been 296 actions initiated in the quarter April to June 2021 (an average of 99 per month), and then 469 actions (an average of 156 per month) in the latest quarter July to September 2021, levels which are significantly lower when compared to average monthly figures for previous years.
126.96.36.199. Paragraph 8 of schedule 1 provides a power for Scottish Ministers, exercisable by the negative procedure, to modify the length of any period of notice specified to apply during the relevant period. In exercising this power, the Scottish Ministers cannot specify a notice period which is longer than six months. In light of the substantial impact anti-social behaviour can have on individuals and communities, Ministers exercised these powers to ensure that where landlords have clear evidence of anti-social or criminal behaviour, which cannot be resolved by other means, then they are able to take the necessary action to end the tenancy. It should be noted that Ministers can exercise their power under paragraph 8 at any time during the lifetime of the specific provisions in the emergency legislation.
188.8.131.52. The provisions which extend notice periods to - in effect - halt any eviction action under the existing legislation including the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 and the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, for up to six months, have been used in the reporting period. This applies to both the social and private rented housing sectors in order to ensure that the position is absolutely clear for all landlords in Scotland.
184.108.40.206. To further support renters facing eviction during the ongoing pandemic, regulations banning the enforcement of eviction orders in the private and social rented sectors came into force on 11 December 2020. The evictions ban was subsequently added to the Local Levels Regulations from 22 January 2021 and applied to areas subject to Levels 3 or 4 restrictions. On 5 March 2021, the Local levels Regulations (including the evictions ban in levels 3 and 4) were extended until 30 September 2021. The Local Levels Regulations (including the evictions ban) were revoked on 9 August 2021 by the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2021. Accordingly, there is no current ban on the enforcement of evictions in Scotland.
220.127.116.11. Social and private landlords have also reaffirmed their commitment to supporting tenants facing difficulties during the pandemic - https://www.gov.scot/news/protecting-tenants-during-pandemic/.
18.104.22.168. Additional reporting requirements under section 6(1) of the 2021 Act require details of the measures in place to protect tenants from eviction and any plans for further measures. In relation to the additional measures in place to protect tenants, the Scottish Government has funded councils with £10 million to provide grants to tenants who have fallen behind on their rent as a result of the pandemic and are at risk of eviction. This is in addition to the £10 million loan funding made available to tenants and the £5 million loan funding made available to landlords.
22.214.171.124. Additional background on the factors to determine the use and continued necessity of the provisions can be found in the Ninth Report.
6.1.2 Section 5 and schedule 4, Part 4 – Extension of time limits
126.96.36.199. At this time, a significant backlog of criminal cases continues to exist and the Scottish Government considers the extended time limits continue to be necessary. To tackle backlogs built up while necessary public health restrictions have been in place, the Scottish Government has committed to investing £50 million this year to the Justice Recover, Renew and Transform (RRT) programme. This will drive further reform, including greater use of digital tools and improved support for victims and witnesses.
188.8.131.52. A number of measures have been put in place to mitigate the impact on the COVID-19 pandemic – with most civil work being dealt with online or vitually and the establishment of innovations such as remote jury centres in cinemas for the most serious criminal trials. Using the additional funding, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) announced additional sixteen court capacity, which forms a significant part of our Recovery programme and which has been made possible by continued collaboration cross the whole justice system. The High Court will sit in Airdrie, Dundee, Inverness and Stirling, with the Sheriff Solemn courts sitting in Dumfries and Dunfermline. All trial courts will be linked to remote jury centres. The ten additional Sheriff Summary courts will be provided at varying locations across Scotland, based on the level of cases and safe court capacity, with at least one court in each of the six sheriffdoms in Scotland.
6.1.3 Section 5 and schedule 4, Part 8 – Release of prisoners
184.108.40.206. These provisions were utilised to conduct a limited release of prisoners in May 2020 as detailed in the Release of Prisoners (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/138).
220.127.116.11. The Scottish Government will continue to engage with the Scottish Prison Service in relation to the potential future use of these powers, as one aspect of wider ongoing discussions of the impact of coronavirus on the prison system, and the safe management of the prison population.
18.104.22.168. Should it become necessary to implement an early release process in order to maintain security and good order, or the health, safety or welfare of prison staff and prisoners, the Scottish Government will work closely with justice partners, public and third sector services, and victims groups, in order to plan and deliver the necessary activities.
Second Scottish Act
6.2.1 Section 2 and schedule 1, Part 1 – Student residential tenancy: termination by tenant
22.214.171.124. The levels system of restrictions has been revoked and revised guidance published for universities, colleges and community learning and development providers. (https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-universities-colleges-and-community-learning-and-development-providers/) The beyond level 0 Guidance reflects an understanding that the virus is unpredictable and significant risks remain and therefore, the provisions of the Act remain necessary.
126.96.36.199. The 28 day notice period has given students looking to find suitable accommodation in the current academic year reassurance that, should restrictions continue or more restrictive measures be re-introduced, either locally or nationally, that prevent students from taking up their accommodation as planned, they will not be held liable to pay for accommodation they are not able to use.
6.2.2 Section 2 and schedule 1, Part 2 – Tenancies: pre-action requirements for order for possession or eviction order on ground of rent arrears
188.8.131.52. The provisions provide Scottish Ministers with the power to specify pre-action requirements for private landlords seeking to end a private tenancy due to rent arrears, where those arrears relate to the period during which paragraph 4 of schedule 1 of the second Scottish Act is in force. The First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) must take account of the extent to which a landlord has complied with the pre-action requirements when deciding whether it is reasonable to grant an order for repossession.
184.108.40.206. Schedule 1 of the first Scottish Act makes all grounds for repossession in the private rented sector discretionary, including for rent arrears. This temporarily changed the original position whereby the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) must grant a repossession order if the level of arrears is in accordance with the criteria laid out in the relevant legislation. This change ensures that the Tribunal considers the reasonableness of making a repossession order during the coronavirus outbreak.
220.127.116.11. The introduction of regulations under the provision temporarily set pre-action requirements that will apply where all or part of the rent arrears have originated in the period during which paragraph 4 of schedule 1 of the second Scottish Act is in force. The extent to which a landlord has complied with these requirements must be taken into account by the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) when deciding whether it is reasonable to grant a repossession order.
18.104.22.168. The introduction of regulations formalises the steps landlords should take in relation to working with private sector tenants to manage arrears prior to seeking repossession during the coronavirus pandemic.
22.214.171.124. The Scottish Government has assessed the potential impact of these provisions on human rights, children's rights and equalities and considers the introduction of pre-action requirements will have a positive impact across those with protected characteristics including women and disabled people who may have been impacted by the consequences of coronavirus. The Scottish Government also considers these measures support the right to adequate housing under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place to prevent unnecessary eviction.
126.96.36.199. The provisions were in force during the reporting period. The Rent Arrears Pre-Action Requirements (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/304) came into force on 30 September 2020.
6.2.3 Section 2 and schedule 1, Part 7 – Care Homes
188.8.131.52. Although these powers have been commenced and are available, they have not been used in this reporting period. Health Boards have not required to exercise their power of a direction over care homes using this legislation. Consequently, Health Boards have not had to use the corresponding power under section 63B of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 to act when said direction has not been complied with.
184.108.40.206. Scottish Ministers have not required to make an application to the courts for an Emergency Intervention Order in relation a care home under these powers. The Care Inspectorate updates Ministers of any care home providers with which they have serious concerns and provide regular updates to them to enable emergency action to be taken quickly if required.
220.127.116.11. No further regulations have been made under powers in section 65B during this tenth reporting period.
6.2.4 Section 3 and schedule 2, Part 1 – Criminal justice – Expiry of undertaking under section 25(2)(a) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016
18.104.22.168. This provision provides the court with the power to prevent the expiry of an undertaking and any conditions attached to it by changing the time the person is due to appear at court.
22.214.171.124. By preventing the expiry of undertakings in this way, the measure has allowed the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to review the previously extended undertaking timescales, so dates may revert back to within 28 days of liberation, and 14 days for domestic abuse cases.
126.96.36.199. Retaining this provision will ensure the court continues to have the power to prevent the expiry of an undertaking and any conditions attached to it. If a person fails to appear at court as required by the terms of their undertaking, the court considers that the failure to appear is attributable to a reason relating to coronavirus and it is not appropriate to grant a warrant for the person's arrest.
188.8.131.52. This enables the preservation of protective conditions of undertaking that may otherwise be lost where a person fails to attend court due to coronavirus and is a key measure to preserve public and victim safety during the coronavirus outbreak, particularly in sensitive cases of domestic abuse
6.3.1 Section 10 and schedule 9 – Temporary modification of mental health legislation
184.108.40.206. Throughout the pandemic, we have engaged with key stakeholders through the Scottish Government's Short Life Mental Health Legislation Commencement Consideration Group to monitor and review the need to commence the temporary provisions on an ongoing basis. The group agreed that the data and evidence of impact on services and workforce is paramount when considering whether there is a need to commence the legislation. We know that there has been an increased level of demand on mental health services both in terms of support services for those with poor mental wellbeing, but also on psychiatric services from people with more severe mental ill health. Therefore, we feel that it remains necessary to retain these provisions at present to provide additional flexibility given the current climate.
6.3.2 Section 49 and schedule 19 – Health Protection Regulations: Scotland
220.127.116.11. Section 49 and schedule 19 commenced on Royal Assent and came into force on 25 March 2020. The powers give the Scottish Ministers power to make regulations for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination with coronavirus in Scotland. These powers have been used to make regulations to provide for restrictions on movement and activities during the pandemic. While the full chronology of these regulations up to 30 September 2021 (SSI 2021/349) can be viewed in the ninth two-monthly report to Parliament, the regulations made using these powers in this tenth reporting period are as follows:
- 29 October 2021: The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 3) Regulations 2021 (SSI/384) were made. These Regulations amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 (the 'Requirements Regulations') to provide that persons who are a nominated representative of an organisation which has been accredited by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change for entrance to the COP 26 Blue Zone are deemed to be fully vaccinated for the purposes of entry to the COP 26 Green Zone. The amendments ceased to have effect on 13 November 2021.
Associated guidance on regulations made under schedule 19 has been regularly updated – see here for the current guidance on the Requirements Regulations - Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance - gov.scot (www.gov.scot).
18.104.22.168. Regulations under schedule 19 must be reviewed at least every 21 days to ensure that the measures they impose continue to be necessary and proportionate. In between these formal reviews, the individual measures are kept under continuous review. Changes arising from any review are set out to the Scottish Parliament in plenary and considered by the Parliament's COVID-19 Committee.
22.214.171.124. Changes to regulations under schedule 19 are assessed through the Four Harms approach, which includes an assessment of current and projected data about the spread of the virus. Underpinning this is Scotland's Strategic Framework which describes our latest approach to managing the pandemic. It was last updated on 16 November 2021.
126.96.36.199. In addition, the Modelling the Epidemic series provides outputs from modelling of the spread and level of the epidemic by Scottish Government, as well as results by modelling groups feeding into the SAGE consensus. These help ensure a robust, peer-tested and up to date picture informs decisions.
188.8.131.52. Public Health Scotland ("PHS") also publish a COVID-19 weekly statistical report. This presents key information on the rollout of the vaccine, volumes of tests and data on Covid transmissions, prevalence of the new variant and case numbers, plus links to a range of research resources and tools.
184.108.40.206. Four Harms: Throughout the pandemic, decisions about restrictions and requirements have been taken on the basis of public health and clinical advice, and an assessment against the four harms caused by the virus. These decisions require judgement to be applied to the facts and considerations relevant at the time they are made. Decisions take in clinical advice from the National Incident Management Team and Scottish Government clinical leads – around the Harm 1 direct health impacts from COVID. Directors of Public Health monitor data on a daily and weekly basis and SG officials update the suite of indicators weekly. The National Incident Management Team considers this information alongside local data and analysis in providing public health advice.
220.127.116.11. This is brought together with evidence and the assessment of impact on the other Harms caused by the virus – including the indirect health harms, the social harms and harms to the economy. Wider considerations are also taken into account such as the prevalence of infection elsewhere, or of the characteristics of new variants – which might suggest differential impacts.
18.104.22.168. Throughout the development of the regulations and guidance, the Scottish Government has always had regard to the need to protect human rights, equality considerations, the impact on business and the particular needs of island communities as part of the policy development process.
22.214.171.124. Measures imposed by regulations must be necessary and proportionate. Whilst statutory measures aim to deal with a significant threat to public health, impact assessments have been, and will continue to be, carried out as required on these measures. Any proposed changes will be assessed for their impact on equality and other areas as part of the policy development. This will be reported to the Scottish Parliament in appropriate impact assessments supporting any further amending regulations. All impact assessments can be found on www.legislation.gov.uk under the appropriate instrument.
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