A LEADING anti-poverty organisation has called on the Scottish Government to provide a “housing lifeline” to people struggling financially amid the Covid-19 crisis – pleading for legal protections to be extended until September 2021.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has issued a warning over a “potential autumn spike in evictions” - and has called on the Scottish Government to “prepare to step in where tenants are independently assessed as being unable to pay” their rent.

As part of emergency Covid-19 legislation in May, the Scottish Government paused potential evictions for rent arrears for six months by extending the minimum notice period needed before a landlord can apply for an eviction order or to notify their intention to repossess a property.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Holyrood legislation to 'effectively stop evictions'

In a new briefing report, the JRF said: “Eviction cases already in the system are being scheduled from July but the Housing Tribunal Service has been given discretion until the expiry of these provisions in September to consider if it would be ‘reasonable’ to grant an eviction order at this time. 

“The Scottish Government may extend the expiry date to the end of March 2021 or September 2021 if required.”

The organisation has also warned that people will be at risk of struggling to afford housing costs when the UK Government’s furlough scheme is ended.

The report adds: “JRF believe the best way to avoid evictions is to prevent arrears building in the first place, by working hard to keep rents manageable over the coming year and by topping up tenant incomes if necessary, on a temporary basis, to address shortfalls and to help tackle rent arrears.

“This could help to provide a lifeline at the end of September when both legal protections are due to end and we are likely to see a rising tide of job losses.

“While the economy and housing market adapt - and it may be that rents in some areas begin to fall in response to less demand for example from overseas students - it is critical in the meantime to support people facing redundancy to keep their homes and prevent a large number of potential evictions when housing, homelessness, advice and representation services are likely to be overwhelmed.”

The Scottish Greens have backed the proposals after the party’s plans to strengthen eviction protections were rejected by MSPs.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: SNP and Tories reject emergency fund for tenants

Scottish Greens housing spokesperson, Andy Wightman, said: “The JRF is right to warn of a potential spike of autumn evictions once the modest emergency protections lapse. The Scottish Government’s unwillingness to support tenants has left thousands of people across Scotland worrying about the security of the roof over their head.

“The Housing Minister rejected my proposals to protect tenants when we debated emergency coronavirus legislation in May, instead preferring to throw money at landlords. Since then he has failed to outline a single measure to protect tenants from being evicted after the emergency period due to debts accrued during it.

“Now that the housing tribunal has reopened, and tenants are once again facing eviction, urgent action is required. The Scottish Government must act to protect tenants before it's too late."