Sunday 30 May 2010

GLC supports Scottish pre-action legal requirement in eviction cases

GLC supports the Scottish Governent's proposal of a pre-action requirement (PAR) for eviction cases in the social rented sector; although the elephant in the room is why not extend this approach to private sector evictions too?

We believe this approach could significantly reduce the number of tenants evicted due to rent arrears in the social rented sector. A PAR has been suggested in a recent Scottish Government consulation paper. Such an approach would require all social landlords to deal with the problem of arrears effectively at an earlier stage. It would also help ensure that court action was only raised as a last resort.

GLC believes the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 could be amended to ensure that compliance with a PAR prior to raising an eviction action was necessary in order to ensure that proceedings were competent in the same way that service of a valid notice of proceedings is required at present. Failure on a social landlord’s part to comply with the PAR would therefore be a defence to the action on competency grounds.

GLC believes it is important, from a public policy point of view that social tenants are afforded the same protection as homeowners. The introduction or a PAR would bring the protection of social rented tenants in line with the protection being introduced for homeowners in the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010.

However, GLC is concerned that the Scottish Government's approach could give rise to unintended consequences, unless appropriate safeguards were put in place.  For example, we are concerned that the PAR could be seen as evidence that it is reasonable to evict in terms of section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. GLC is concerned that social landlords could argue that as they have complied with the PAR, and that as their tenants still had arrears, it would be 'reasonable' to evict. We believe that it is important that full consideration is still given to the requirements of section 16.

Although we hope the introduction of a pre-action requirement will reduce the number of cases raised in court we think care must be taken to ensure that the result is not an automatic assumption that all the cases that end up in court must be ones where nothing can be done to assist the tenant and that eviction will be reasonable in these cases.

We also think it is important that landlords continue to work with the tenant to solve the problem of the arrears, even after court action is raised. Our experience is that once the case has been raised in court some landlords become focused on obtaining a decree and are not as willing to negotiate repayment arrangements with tenants. We are concerned that the pre-action requirement may be seen as landlords as all they are required to do to assist a tenant. Instead we believe it should be seen as a minimum level of assistance that must be given before an action can competently be raised. Landlords should still be encourage to engage with tenants and work towards preventing eviction even after court action has been raised.

GLC's full response, led by Lindsay Paterson, Solicitor, to the Scottish Government's consultation is available online here.

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