This year we campaigned and suggested progressive amendments to the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Bill. We submitted written evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Stage 1 inquiry on the Bill, and in November our Principal Solicitor gave evidence to the Parliament’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee. We explained that the aims of the Scottish Government’s Bill were good but there were too many mandatory grounds for landlords to evict tenants. In our view it was the equivalent of giving a tenant a ‘zero hours contract’ on their home.
As a matter of principle and economic prudence GLC did not believe an ever-increasing private rented sector (PRS) was capable of meeting Scotland’s housing need. The sector falls short of being fit for purpose at present. We supported UNISON Scotland’s proposals for encouraging pension funds to invest in building good quality affordable housing for rent. We made a number of recommendations, many of which were supported by the Committee, and some of which were reflected in Scottish Government amendments to the Bill at Stages 2 and 3. We have since been invited and agreed to join the Scottish Government’s advisory group on the implementation of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016.
In June last year we campaigned against the recent policy of social landlords seeking ‘up-front’ rent from homeless persons who are legally entitled to an offer of a permanent tenancy. Many housing associations advised homeless prospective tenants they would only be granted a lease if they pay the first month’s rent ‘up-front’. This was an insurmountable barrier for many homeless people, who are either in receipt of benefits or low wages – both of which are paid in arrears – and trying to cope with the mental and physical stress and anguish of homelessness. We called on the Scottish Government to issue statutory guidance to remove this unreasonable barrier.
In September last year we participated in an awareness-raising week with BBC Radio 4’s Money Box highlighting the prevalence of telephone money scams across Scotland and the UK. This is known as ‘vishing‘. There are thousands of vishing calls each day to people by fraudsters looking to dupe consumers to transfer money from their bank account to them. Last year £23m was scammed from people in the UK, and we took part in the BBC’s radio discussion and promoted our own consumer guide through social media and our website.
In October we published our research report, “Powerless”, funded by the Big Lottery in Scotland, on the experience of tenants in Scotland’s private rented sector: http://www.govanlc.com/powerless.pdf We searched out and listened to the personal experience of a wide range of tenants in Glasgow’s private rented sector. Our report is their story. Their voice represents a common experience which we have no reason to believe is not replicated across Scotland and the UK.
Our study revealed that most tenants felt powerless and worried that they have little more than a month’s security of tenure. Learning from their experience, GLC’s report made a number of major law reform, practice and policy recommendations.