Friday 31 January 2014

GLC welcomes Welfare Reform Committee's report and renews its 2012 call for £50m to neutralise the bedroom tax in Scotland

Govan Law Centre welcomes the Scottish Welfare Reform Committee’s statement on the unfairness of the bedroom tax. At Govan Law Centre we see those affected by the bedroom tax on a daily basis and are currently fighting for our clients to stay in their home.

The Scottish Parliament should be given more powers and resources in order to mitigate the bedroom tax however we feel that currently the Scottish Parliament has the ability to legislate creatively in order to mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax on the Scottish people. 

Our call from November 2012 for a prevention of homelessness fund to be created, supported by Shelter in February 2013 asking for a £50m fund is one way we feel the Scottish Parliament could utilise their current powers. A recent petition in the Scottish Parliament backed this position and we hope that it is successful. 

Of course the best way to stop this regressive housing policy is to scrap the bedroom tax in its entirety and that this power lies with Westminster and we join the Committee in calling for the Westminster Government to call an end to the bedroom tax.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Housing (Scotland) Bill fails to meet the needs of homeless Scots, young people and those suffering from mental health problems

GLC's Garry Burns (right); Paul Brown, Legal Services Agency;
Michael Clancy, Law Society of Scotland
Govan Law Centre (GLC) were invited to give evidence to the Infrastructure and Investment Committee this week (22 January 2014) in relation to the proposed Housing (Scotland) Bill (a BBC video of the Parliamentary evidence session can be viewed here: )

GLC advised the committee that although Glasgow was unique in Scotland with regards to its homelessness problems that the figures for the rest of Scotland don’t tell the true story. That the problem with hidden homelessness (that is homelessness that is not officially recorded) is an issue across the whole country.
In our view, the consultation process had to be far more thorough and inclusive as there was no input from people who were vulnerable or at a disadvantage, nor were there any consultations with young people or young people’s organisations.
Adjusting the “reasonable preference” in the manner put forward by the Bill's policy would be to the detriment of future applicants for social housing. By not awarding those who are living in overcrowded conditions or are living in intolerable standards, reasonable preference families will suffer. RSL's are charities, who have enjoyed significant public subsidy, and as such have an obligation to society, one of those obligations should be to offer tenancies to those who are living in houses which don't meet the tolerable standard. 
RSL’s having more power in suspending peoples housing applications for previous misdemeanors in housing for an undefined period would in our view be an erosion of a housing applicants rights.  The extension of powers for RSL’s to convert tenancies into SSST is giving RSL’s too much power over their tenants. There doesn't appear to be any significant evidence for further erosion of tenants’ rights. ASBO are a serious matter and the rights of all tenants have to be met, however essentially tripling the length of time through which a family or individual has to have a very real and serious threat of eviction over their head is not something we feel should be in this Housing Bill.
In relation to private landlords, GLC believe that far too often police do not take action on unlawful evictions and action should be taken to resolve this issue. Where landlords have carried out illegal evictions which is a criminal offence, GLC would like to see serious repercussions for such actions. This could include empowering private landlord registration scheme operating in local authorities to have more powers of enforcement than they currently have. There is also to possibility that criminal charges can be brought against landlords who commit crimes when evicting tenants.
We also believe that private rents are excessively high for tenants, particularly if they are on low or modest incomes. The Scottish Government should carry out a review into private sector rents and use their powers to curb rents which are unaffordable to those on low or modest incomes. By creating fairer rents there would also be a significant saving to the taxpayer if the tenant is on benefits which pay for their housing.
Govan Law Centre is grateful to have been invited to give evidence the committee and hope that our recommendations are considered and implemented. If the intention of the Scottish Government is to enact housing policy that is more socially just for all, then the Bill as it stands is very far from achieving this. Far more research and consulting has to be done with those who are hit hard by high rents and are excluded from social housing. The Bill thus far mostly seems to fit the needs of RSL's at the expense of tenants and potential tenants.