LOOPHOLES in Scottish Government eviction ban could lead to thousands of Scots being made homeless, housing campaigners have warned.

The First Minister first announced plans for an eviction ban and an immediate rent freeze for social housing and private tenants in September, last year as she branded the cost of living crisis a "humanitarian emergency".

When launching the support for tenants last year under the Programme for Government, Ms Sturgeon said it "will aim to give people security about the roof over their heads this winter".

But there are concerns that the eviction ban and a cap on rent which is due to be extended to September 30, 2023 will not prevent thousands being turfed out.

And there is further anger that ministers are continuing to "betray" the poorest in Scotland in the cost of living crisis by failing to apply rent caps to those letting from social landlords who could face rent rises of up to 11.1%.

The rent freeze announced by ministers was part of "the centrepiece" of the 2022-23 Programme for Government (PfG) but described as "a PR con trick" and "impotent" by critics as it started after bills go up and ended before they are due to rise again in April.

Under the Scottish Government plans to extend emergency provisions to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, for private landlords the rent freeze would be replaced by a cap from April. Private landlords will be allowed to raise rents by a maximum of 3% but they can apply to Rent Service Scotland to increase the figure to 6% if they have a valid reason.

The eviction ban and freeze on rent increases was first introduced in October last year to help tenants with the cost-of-living crisis.

But housing campaigners have warned that the eviction ban does not apply to social tenants with debts of more than £2,250. It is estimated that the numbers with debts over that level would run into thousands as average household arrears in Scotland are believed to be running at over £4000.

Housing regulators forecast that rent arrears within the over 550,000 socially rented properties in Scotland are to peak in 2022/23 having hit £169.6m at the end of March, 2022, which amounts to 6.3% of the amounts due.

The Scottish Tenants' Organisation said the "massive loophole" meant that tenants with "modest rent arrears can be evicted at any time driving a coach and horses through this so-called ban".

READ MORE: Ministers refuse to act over 'scandalous' £33m Scots homeless debt

They added: "We are living through an existential cost of living crisis with thousands of social rented tenants and their families in Scotland facing the real prospect of homelessness and destitution with a rent freeze and eviction ban that will not protect social rented tenants in Scotland."

Tenants' group Living Rent said it was also concerned over the numbers that could still be evicted despite the ban.

Tenants can also be evicted where a private landlord needs to either sell or live in the property due to financial hardship.

Living Rent secretary Aditi Jehangir said: "The government needs to introduce a comprehensive plan to ensure no tenants are forced out of their homes into homelessness.

HeraldScotland:

"Tenants who are still being evicted are not just damaged by being turfed out of their home, but they are also forced to rent new tenancies, not subject to the rent freeze.

"The government needs to introduce rent controls that ensure that rents are brought down and commit to building more social housing to ensure that there are homes available for all.

"Social housing providers have agreed they will increase rents an average of 6%. But the agreement is not binding and social landlords are able to increase rent much higher than this, up to inflation. Even the Tories in England are proposing to cap social rents far below this."

Tenants' rights minister Patrick Harvie has previously said that the social rent freeze would be lifted from April after the Scottish Government reached an agreement with landlords to keep rises below inflationary levels of 11.1%.

The Scottish Government said that members of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Glasgow West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations had reported planned increases averaging 6.1%.

Queen’s Cross Housing Association and Maryhill Housing Association in the north of the Glasgow have both been proposing rises of between 7% and 9%. North Glasgow Homes have been consulting over an increase of between 6% and 8%.

It has raised continuing concerns that the poorest in Scotland will face a heavy financial burden - after failing to benefit from the rent freeze anyway.

Nicola Sturgeon was told by the housing regulator in September that the rent increase freeze to beat the cost of living crisis would not work as it covered a period when the vast majority of bills would not go up anyway.

Ms Jehangir added: "Tenants in social housing are among the most vulnerable to increases in costs and by the government's own admission, 63% of social households do not have the savings to cover next month's rent. Any rent increase will have a huge impact for tenants across the sector.

"We are calling for the rent freeze to apply to all tenants and for the government to invest more in ensuring the repair of social housing."

Based on rental sector projections, the housing regulator estimated that a rent freeze in 2023/24 would remove almost £60 million in rental income in that year from the business plans of registered social landlords.

The Scottish Government will be able to seek a further six-month extension of the emergency cost of living provisions beyond the September 30 expiry of the legislation.

A group of landlords associations is seeking a judicial review at Scotland’s highest court over the decision to freeze rents and ban evictions.

The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL), Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and Propertymark filed a petition at the Court of Session on Friday, seeking judicial review of the emergency legislation passed last year aimed at tackling the cost of living crisis.

The petition stated that all three groups believe the law to be disproportionate and unfair, with the decision to retain rent control for the private rented sector and remove it for the social rented sector exacerbating the situation.

The recent decision by the Scottish government to remove the cap for social landlords means a well-off individual renting in the private sector could be provided financial protection that is not available to someone in more challenging financial circumstances in the social sector, the groups said.

In a nine-page submission to the Court of Session, signed by Lord Davidson of Glen Cova KC – a former Advocate General for Scotland – the groups argue the legislation has led to “a material adverse impact on the income and capital of landlords renting property in Scotland”.

HeraldScotland:

Mr Harvie said: "Our emergency legislation has given people – whether they rent in the private or social rented sector – greater reassurance within their current tenancies even as their other costs have been rising. We recognise the enormous pressures households are facing, which is why we have given social tenants advance notice of these changes, as well as the confidence that any rent increase will be well below inflation.

“The voluntary agreements we have reached with social landlords will keep rents well below what they are in the private market and limit rises next year, while allowing social landlords to continue investing in essential services such as home improvements and maintenance.

"Subject to the approval of Parliament, enforcement of evictions will continue to be prevented across all tenures except in a limited number of circumstances. At the same time as restricting evictions we recognise that social landlords will continue to seek to engage with tenants to ensure that rent arrears are limited and do not become unmanageable debts facing people."

In announcing the proposals in September, Ms Sturgeon said:“In what is perhaps the most significant announcement I will make today, I can confirm to Parliament we will take immediate action to protect tenants in the private and in the social rented sectors.

“I can announce that we will shortly introduce emergency legislation to Parliament. The purpose of the emergency law will be two-fold.

“Firstly, it will aim to give people security about the roof over their head this winter through a moratorium on evictions.

“Secondly, the legislation will include measures to deliver a rent freeze.”

The Programme for Government document said the Scottish Government plans to “introduce emergency legislation to protect tenants by freezing rents and imposing a moratorium on evictions until at least March 31, 2023.

“We also intend to act to prevent immediate rent increases”.