Saturday 29 December 2018

Scottish rents spiralling at double the rate of inflation don’t tell the full story: GLC raises concern over the private rented sector in Scotland

Unlawful and unfair exploitation of vulnerable tenants lie beneath Scottish Government statistics 

Rents in Glasgow and Edinburgh’s private rented sector (PRS) have risen more than anywhere else in Scotland, and Govan Law Centre (GLC) believes spiralling rent costs are leading to more homelessness and poverty.

We believe the story beneath the Scottish Government’s official statistics is stark, and deeply worrying.  Casework from GLC’s Citywide Private Rented Sector service in Glasgow reveals how many private landlords aren’t following the legal protections in place for rent increases. 

Some tenants end up paying for the repairs their landlords are obliged by law to carry out.
Many vulnerable tenants are being pushed into financial hardship and misery, and being forced to live below “the breadline” and rely on foodbanks to make ends meet.

In Glasgow, private rents have been hiked up by almost one third between 2010 and 2018 (31.13%) - almost double the rate of inflation (the consumer price index rose by a total of 18.7% over the last eight years - see further Chart 1 below).

GLC’s PRS Co-ordinator Wendy Malloy said
: “We can evidence that rent increases being implemented during lets are having a serious impact on household financial sustainability, and increasing the risk of homelessness. A lot of the time these increases are being done without proper legal notice being served and with tenants simply accepting they have to pay”.

“We are seeing many households struggle with arrears and we are providing legal advice and representation in these circumstances. We believe this highlights the need to get the message out to people that there is a formal process in place for increasing rents and mechanisms to appeal should the tenant disagree with the proposed increase. Always seek free advice from your local law centre or advice agency”.

GLC’s Principal Solicitor Mike Dailly said: “Our casework provides cogent evidence of unlawful rent hikes across the City by private landlords. One of our clients is a disabled single parent whose landlord increased her rent by 43% during one month to £1,500 p.m. The housing benefit ‘local housing allowance’ was only £800 p.m. Other clients already struggling to make up housing benefit shortfalls have been trying to cope with rent increases of around £100 p.m. Tenants can apply for discretionary housing payments to help, but these are generally temporary. In practice, many tenants are meeting rent hikes by using their social security money for food and heating costs”.

“There is clearly a need for greater public awareness that rent hikes require formal written notice and must comply with certain legal procedures to be valid. There is always a right to appeal, although the law on market rents tends to favour private landlords. Govan Law Centre believes the private rented sector remains largely unregulated and in practice is too often a free-for-all for landlords out to squeeze as much money as they can from a tenant with limited options”.

“For low income tenants there is no consumer choice or genuine market competition in this sector. We believe there is a case for national regulation - there is no national regulation at present unlike for the social rented sector. There is a need for a ‘living rent’ in this dysfunctional market, and strengthening the rights of private sector tenants in Scotland. The present system is unsustainable and is costing the taxpayer in terms of the social, human, and medical problems it creates”.

Case study Mrs J
Mrs J is a widowed woman with 3 adult children living in private rented property. Mrs J’s has a number of health problems and her own income derives from sickness and disability benefits. Mrs J’s also has an entitlement to housing benefit of £800 per month which was capped at the maximum level of local housing allowance. The client with the assistance of her family were able to pay the difference of £250 towards the contractual rent of £1,050 each month. Mrs J’s landlord came to the clients home to advise that he was increasing the rent to £1,500 each month and that this was to be effective from the next date rent was due. Govan Law Centre were able to advise that this increase had not been intimated to her in the prescribed form and insufficient notice had been given and also advised this to the landlord. A few months on from this her landlord returned and provided the correct intimation and notice which meant there was to be an increase of £450 per month towards the rent. Mrs J and her family were unable to afford this increase despite significant reductions in their household spending. As a result of this increase Mrs J and her family had to make an application for Homelessness on the basis that their rent was unaffordable and can no longer sustain their tenancy.

Case study Mr K

Mr K is a single man living in private rented property. Mr K has lived in the property for over 12 years. Due to poor mental health Mr K has been unable to work throughout the period of his tenancy. Mr K’s housing benefit was capped at the maximum local housing allowance for the property but only had to pay a few pounds from his Employment Support Allowance to meet the contractual rent. At the start of the year his landlord advised that the level of rent was to be increased by £91 per month. Mr K has had some assistance with Discretionary Housing Payment to help meet this increase however due to the nature of the award this was only a short term award. Mr K started further utilising his Employment & Support Allowance to help cover the shortfall but this has meant he has had to cut back significantly on essential expenditure such as food, heating and lighting. Mr K was unable to sustain these cut backs and as such his rent has become affordable. Mr K is now currently looking to move into Registered Social Landlord housing stock but due to the level of housing stock available has yet to find suitable alternative accommodation. As a consequence Mr K has accrued arrears to the value of the monthly rental shortfall.

Case study Ms B
Ms B is a single parent to two boys and lives in private rented accommodation. Ms B works full time, so was paying rent herself until the landlord increased this from £650 to £750 pcm. As the property was also suffering disrepair and dampness, Ms B’s income was being used to provide additional heating and fixing repairs the landlord was refusing to do, such as replace a broken window, clean and paint over dampness. When the rent was increased Ms B begun to miss payments and accrued arrears of £1300 and late payments. Ms B has applied for DHP but this was refused. She was now borrowing from family and friends to manage the arrears and pay full rent. Govan Law Centre were able to report the landlord to Landlord Registration and the Housing and Property Chamber for Scotland and as a consequence a rent relief order and repair enforcement order were granted. Govan Law Centre were also able to ascertain that the rent increase was unlawfully implemented as no rent increase notice had been served. Ms B gave up her private tenancy a few weeks after the enforcement orders were granted to move in with family while seeking social housing.

PRS stats for Scotland from 2010 to 2018 (year end September)


No comments:

Post a Comment