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Crisis not over for private renters and could get worse

Citizens Advice Scotland is warning of a crisis building for people who rent their homes in the private sector.

The charity has today published new data showing the demands for advice from the CAB network in the last financial year, which shows a 18% increase in the proportion of advice given on housing issues, with a particular 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. 

The new briefing shows that, in the year 2020/21, compared to the previous year:

  • The proportion of housing advice given on the private rented sector (PRS) increased by 28%.
  • Within PRS advice, the proportion of advice on rent and repairs issues increased by 4.8% and 5.5% respectively.
  • Advice on arrears in the PRS has increased, indicating that these tenants have faced particular pressures because of the pandemic and need support.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is calling for measures to support private renters, including:

  • Ensuring PRS tenants get support to keep their homes or move to homes that better suit them as we come out of the pandemic.
  • Using the opportunity of the new Rented Sector Strategy, Housing to 2040 and a new Housing Bill to fix longstanding issues for renters that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, especially around eviction rights and disputes with landlords.
  • Improving transparency in the PRS through more and better data collection on housing quality and rent levels.
  • Increasing access to truly affordable housing across all tenures, supported by a better shared definition of affordability.

CAS Social Justice spokesperson 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 Our concern is that as these protections are proposed to be withdrawn, many people will face a financial crisis leading to increased rent arrears and possible evictions.

“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 in this briefing 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.

“Meanwhile we encourage anyone who is concerned about their rent to seek independent financial advice – which is free from the CAB network.”

The new CAS briefing also reveal a number of other trends, including the fact that the proportion of housing advice related to environmental and neighbour issues has also increased, suggesting that these problems have become more common as people have spent more time at home during lockdown.