A COALITION of homelessness and housing charities and organisations have called on the Scottish Government to extend emergency powers to protect people against eviction – warning that “time is running out” for vulnerable families that fear they could lose their homes amid the incoming economic crisis.

The plea comes as Glasgow University is exploring what impact the lockdown has had on those already isolated and marginalised. The study, funded by the Scottish Government, will focus on refugee and asylum processes, those facing domestic abuse or sexual violence, people with a disability or long-term health conditions and criminal justice controls.

Shelter Scotland, Simon Community Scotland, Legal Services Agency, Rowan Alba, Move On, Glasgow Night Shelter, Scottish Churches Housing Association, Cyrenians and the Scottish Refugee Council have written to Housing Minister Kevin Stewart, raising fears over the likelihood of people losing their homes amid the Covid-19 crisis – with the current protections against eviction are due to be lifted in September.

The coalition is calling on Scottish Ministers to extend the protections and ensure that vulnerable households cannot be evicted until at least April 2021.

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Earlier this month, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation issued a warning over a “potential autumn spike in evictions” - calling on the Scottish Government to “prepare to step in where tenants are independently assessed as being unable to pay” their rent.

The organisation called on minister to “extend the expiry date to the end of March 2021 or September 2021 if required” and provide people with a “housing lifeline”.

Now the coalition of homelessness and housing support groups has piled more pressure on the Scottish Government, pleading with officials to protect those who have no recourse to public funds from forced destitution – adding that they “cannot wait for UK ministers, who have demonstrated no desire to take a humane approach that respects everyone’s rights.”

Director of Shelter Scotland, Alison Watson, said: “As we emerge from this crisis, no-one wants to see families losing their homes or vulnerable people being forced back on to the streets.

“We know the pandemic has had a terrible impact on household finances. Thousands have lost their jobs, rent arrears are increasing and we’ve seen big increases in homelessness applications and the use of temporary accommodation. We must act now to stop the situation from getting worse.

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“Scottish Ministers have shown real leadership in getting people off the streets and keeping families in their homes. Now we’re asking them to step up once again by protecting people from being evicted and preventing a wave of homelessness this autumn.”

Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken added: “How we respond to this pandemic in the coming weeks and months will profoundly shape our future direction as a society.

“We have seen what can be possible when we act decisively and collectively, with compassion and a common purpose. Let’s not lose that. Now is the time to live up to our shared values of justice and compassion and choose never to return to a system that evicted people into homelessness.”

The Scottish Greens saw their initial plans to strengthen eviction protections rejected by MSPs.

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The party’s housing spokesperson, Andy Wightman, warned that 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”.

He added: “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 re-opened, and tenants are once again facing eviction, urgent action is required. The Scottish Government must act to protect tenants before it's too late."

When the initial protections against evictions were put in place, Mr Stewart told MSPs that "the Parliament has the ability to extend that for a further six months and then a further six months after that" indicating that "in order to protect people, that is something that we might have to move to do".

He added: "I am always more than willing to help folk who need the most help. The most vulnerable people in our society should be supported."

Mr Stewart said the points raised in the letter would be carefully considered as part of assessing the ongoing operation of the emergency coronavirus legislation.

He said: “We recognise the significant financial hardship some people may be facing as a result of the pandemic which is why we took swift action through emergency legislation. We have, in effect, halted eviction action for up to six months to help tenants to remain in their home.

“The Scottish Government has been clear no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to coronavirus. We expect landlords to be flexible with tenants facing financial hardship and signpost them to the range of support that is available to help tenants pay their rent.”

The Scottish Government is funding a study through the Chief Scientist Office of Scotland to help inform decisions on hardship and inequality.

The Glasgow University research is being led by Professor Sarah Armstrong of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and Dr Lucy Pickering of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing.

It involves a large research team including 18 investigators and seven PhD and postdoctoral research assistants.

Professor Armstrong said: “It has now become clear to all that the pandemic does not affect us all equally, we are not all in it together. Just as important, lockdown doesn’t affect us all equally either.

“For the person isolated with her abuser, or the person who cannot enjoy the gradual easing of lockdown because they are shielding, or the child who has been unable to visit a parent in prison for over three months – lockdown intensifies pre-existing hardships.

“This study seeks to document the voices and experiences of those who may be impacted more significantly than most.”

Dr Pickering added: “We aim to reveal the ways that the response to a pandemic can interact with pre-existing inequalities. “At the same time, we hope also to learn of ways that we could address inequalities, or to discover that people who have had to cope longer than many of us with isolation can teach us something about not only surviving but new ways of thriving in these conditions.”