By John Blackwood and Callum Chomczuk

LAST month the Scottish Government passed temporary legislation to extend private sector rental notice periods for most eviction grounds to six months. It is right and essential that tenancies are supported given the pressure on incomes and jobs from covid-19. But as rent arrears increase, we need to ensure landlords are given the right support so our housing system is not inadvertently allowed to implode.

Recognising the pressure on the private rented sector, the Scottish Government announced a loan scheme to provide support for private landlords which will cover 100 per cent of the rental income from one property.

While some may contend that private landlords should not get any help at all, they are a critical component of the housing system in Scotland.

Ask yourself this: with an uncertain job market and probable economic hardship, isn’t it likely that many people will want to be as flexible as possible and prefer to rent rather than make the long-term and expensive decision to buy a property, when they don’t know what the future holds?

We must therefore ensure private landlords can continue to offer homes for long-term let, giving tenants the choices they will be looking for. The Scottish Government’s proposal is a welcome first step but we still run a serious risk of collapse in Scotland’s overall sector unless more is done.

If the objective is to ensure landlords can still offer homes for private rent in the future, then limiting this to just one property, in all circumstances, inhibits the chances of success for the scheme. A small-scale landlord operates the same way as other SMEs, some of which may be entitled to government support for each of their separate outlets. We would ask for a similar position for landlords, even if this was on a sliding scale for additional properties and where the impact of rent arrears can be evidenced.

We understand there will be strict eligibility criteria applied to the loans. The facility will only be available to individual landlords, we presume to prevent larger businesses who do not need support profiting from the scheme. While we agree with that sentiment, if we don’t support the entire sector, we run the risk of large-scale collapse and tenants being left without homes.

Instead, we suggest requiring landlords with more than one property to declare their business does not qualify for any of the other coronavirus support available such as the job retention scheme, business grants, business rates holiday or self-employed support. This would quickly and easily achieve the same goal but ensure landlords who need support do not slip through the cracks.

The reality is the longer this goes on, the less likely that loans will be enough. Any one of us would be cautious of taking on additional debt without knowing when we will be able to repay. Such debt worries will make landlords less likely to use this support, leading instead to them selling up and exiting the sector, reducing housing supply at a time when it is most needed.

We all have a responsibility to our tenants. The last thing we want to see is a surge in evictions at the end of the coronavirus outbreak right at the time people will be trying to regroup and stabilise their lives. Collectively the housing sector needs an approach that protects all parts of housing in Scotland to guarantee that we can provide the different types of quality housing we need.

John Blackwood is Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords; Callum Chomczuk is National Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland