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£10m Tenant Hardship Loan Fund coming this autumn to help Scottish renters

The Scottish Government also confirmed their plans to extend emergency legislation protection against evictions to March 2021 but campaigners warn of financial hardship down the line

The Scottish Government will offer interest-free loans to renters with their new £10 million Tenant Hardship Loan Fund to help people pushed into financial difficulty by the Covid-19 pandemic to pay rent.

The fund will open in November for any tenant who is unable to access other forms of housing costs as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the jobs market and economy.

Ministers also point to the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) fund as part of their support package for renters – the payment which helps tenants in receipt of benefits will increase by £3m, bringing the total to £19m.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart also confirmed that the previously reported eviction protections for private and social tenants would be extended by six months to March 2021 once approved by the Scottish Parliament. But legislation that introduced a three-month notice period for tenants who have behaved in anti-social or criminal way will be reverted back to a one-month period following consultation with housing authorities.

“We already know that the pandemic has hit the lowest earners hardest and the Scottish Government has already put in place a range of actions in place to support tenants,” said Stewart.

“This new £10 million fund, along with a further increase in our Discretionary Housing Payment funds, will mean that no one should be left in a position where they cannot access support to pay their rent.

“We have been clear that no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic. I fully expect landlords to be flexible with anyone facing such challenges, signposting them to the sources of financial support available, and tenants in difficulty should engage with their landlord and seek advice on the options open to them.”

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The announcement was made yesterday during the Programme for Government unveiling at Holyrood but Scottish Green MSPs hit back at the plans warning that they were “inadequate”.

Instead they are urging the SNP Government to adopt their five-point housing plan, including bringing in a total evictions ban and a rent freeze.

Responding directly to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the chamber, Scottish Greens’ Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone said: “The proposed loan fund represents £30 per tenant and is, of course, debt. As we recover from Covid, Scotland faces a tidal wave of evictions and the First Minister said in her statement that we legislated to stop people being evicted but we didn’t, we legislated for a six-month delay. It is a fact that eviction notices are being granted currently by the tribunal with notices to leave being issued before emergency legislation.”

Similarly, Scotland’s rent union Living Rent has warned that there are no protections in place to stop landlords raising rent once a tenant has received money from the fund while renters are still facing financial hardship down the line.

To Maria Torres-Quevedo, a spokesperson for Living Rent, the only solutions for renters come in the form of a full eviction ban and rent controls.

“The Scottish Government’s provision of interest free loans to help tenants pay rent will only push the burden of financial hardship further down the line,” she said. “Furthermore, landlords can abuse this policy by raising rents in the knowledge that their tenants can apply to this fund to meet higher monthly payments. This measure is funnelling public money to landlords while doing little to support tenants or to make substantive changes to an unsustainable rental market.

“Many already struggled with high rents before the pandemic, and a loan-based solution is not a feasible long term strategy for them.”

The Big Issue asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government if similar support for renters could be expected south of the border. A Government spokesperson said:

“The Government has taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic, and our extension of the ban on evictions for a further four weeks means no renters will have been evicted for six months.

“We have also introduced measures requiring landlords to give six months’ notice to tenants before seeking repossession, supporting renters over winter.

“We will keep these measures under review and our decisions will continue to be guided by the latest public health advice.

The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance is working to protect jobs and prevent people from falling into homelessness. We know that the Covid-19 pandemic has hit thousands of people hard financially and we are working on financial solutions to ensure that those hit hardest by the current crisis will not have to experience the horrors of homelessness through no fault of their own.

We need your ideas, however big or small, on how to achieve these goals. Get in touch at rora@bigissue.com.

Image: Yuki Mok