MINISTERS have today been warned of a crisis involving people who rent their homes in the private sector with concerns of a continuing rise in evictions and homelessness.

Citizens Advice Scotland said it had registered an 18% annual increase in the proportion of advice given on housing issues, with a concerning 28% spike in requests for help with issues in the private rented sector.

CAS now fears that, with the winding down of furlough support and other protective measures, many tenants are facing a rent arrears crisis and the risk of eviction and homelessness.

An estimated 216 people experiencing homelessness died in 2019, according to National Records of Scotland (NRS) data.

This represents an increase of 21 deaths when compared to 2018 estimates.

Scotland had the highest homeless death rate when compared to England and Wales, with a rate of 52.2 per million population for those aged 15-74 compared to 18.0 in England and 14.3 in Wales.

More than half of homeless deaths were drug-related.

Some 31,333 households were assessed as homeless in 2019/20, an increase of 4% compared to 2018/19.

These households contain 51,365 people, including 35,654 adults and 15,711 children.

Within the rise in advice on the private rented sector, the proportion on rent and repairs issues rose by 4.8% and 5.5% respectively.

Advice on arrears has increased which CAS says indicates that these tenants have faced particular pressures because of the pandemic and need support.

CAS is now calling on measures to ensure tenants in the private rented sector get support to keep their homes or move to those that better suit them as we come out of the pandemic.

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It said there should be increased access to truly affordable housing across all tenures, supported by a better shared definition of affordability.

It said a new housing bill should look to fix longstanding issues for renters that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, especially around eviction rights and disputes with landlords.

HeraldScotland:

CAS social justice spokesman Nina Ballantyne said: “This new data shows that many renters in the private sector have been struggling financially through the pandemic, even with support like the furlough scheme and changes to Universal Credit. Our concern is that as these protections are proposed to be withdrawn, many people will face a financial crisis leading to increased rent arrears and possible evictions.

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“We’ve been working with government and other stakeholders to increase the amount of support available to renters, including extending the pre-action requirements which make clear how landlords should support tenants in financial difficulty. We welcome the new £10million grant fund that was announced in June, and we’re working with the Scottish Government to ensure it reaches everyone who needs it.

“We’ve also outlined some other measures that we would like to see implemented to help people who are struggling and make the housing system fairer in the longer term. We’re asking government and other stakeholders to heed this evidence and continue working together to improve housing in Scotland."

Concerns have been raised that social housing landlors have begun legal action which could lead to the eviction of more than 7000 tenants in Scotland.

Ministers have insisted families hit financially by the pandemic will only be evicted as a last resort, despite an emergency ban ending last month.

But it is understood that councils and housing associations issued 6996 “notices of proceeding” between June 2020 and March this year.

Legal notices must be issued before eviction court actions are taken to remove tenants who cannot pay their rent.

Councils, housing associations and private landlords insisted in June they would only take eviction action as a “last resort”.

In joint statements they said they were committed to supporting tenants facing difficulties during the pandemic.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are doing all we can to support tenants who are struggling as a result of the pandemic, and have been clear from the outset that eviction action must be an absolute last step, when all other avenues have been exhausted and a tenancy is no longer sustainable.  

“We welcomed the recent statement from local authorities, housing associations and private landlords which underlined the sector’s commitment to only taking eviction action as a last resort.

“Our total support for tenants during the pandemic is now almost £39 million, including a £10 million grant fund to help tenants who have fallen into arrears.

“We would encourage all tenants who are struggling to seek advice on their individual circumstances.”