Build Back Better?

Build Back Better?

23rd February 2022

Build Back Better? Start with housing policy

by Aoife Deery, CAS Senior policy officer.

This article was first published in the Herald on 21 February 2022.

“No-one should lose their home because they have suffered financial hardship due to coronavirus.”  

That’s what the Scottish Government promised at the beginning of the pandemic, nearly two years ago. At the end of next month, the last COVID protections introduced by the Scottish Government against eviction – the extended notice periods - will fall.

To some, this will signal a return to normal times, but for others it will be a significant cause for concern as they try to get out of the financial mess that COVID has left many in.

With the furlough scheme having ended and several other support schemes wrapping up, opportunities to access financial help are narrowing. Coupled with the rocketing cost of living and soaring bills, it’s really important that people act now to check what help they might be able to access. CAS advocated strongly for the establishment of the £10million COVID Tenant Grant Fund and now we want to see every penny of it going towards keeping people in their homes.

I’ve said this many times before in this column, but the lasting lesson of the pandemic for many of us has been how important having a safe, warm and affordable home is. This has also resonated with policymakers and we are seeing signs that the housing system is set to be strengthened, with many of the Scottish Government’s proposals a reflection of experiences during the pandemic.

In January, the COVID Recovery Bill was laid in Parliament, which contains a multitude of proposed changes to public services. One of the key parts of this bill is the suggestion to retain pre-action requirements or ‘protocol’. This means that when tenants are at risk of eviction due to arrears, their landlord has to show that they’ve taken reasonable steps to engage with them and signpost to sources of advice and support. This has already been in place in the social rented sector for several years and CAS supports it being extended permanently to private renters too, helping to align the whole rented sector in Scotland.

Looking further ahead, the Scottish Government has also now published its Rented Sector Strategy, which contains a host of policy proposals aimed at improving affordability, accessibility and standards in the rented sector. Some proposals look to strengthen existing housing policy, such as around evictions, while others introduce completely new policies, for example introducing a regulator for the private rented sector.

As I’ve said before, CAS looks forward to the open conversations around many of the issues covered in the rented sector strategy, and we encourage everyone to have a look at it (on the Scottish government website) and respond to the consultation, which is open until the 15th April. 

As we move into days where it feels like we might soon see the end of the pandemic, it’s easy to forget the bold pledges the Scottish Government made in the early days. It’s also easy to forget that people might still be feeling the financial effects of the pandemic. The Citizens Advice network in Scotland hasn’t forgotten, and will keep working to get cash into people’s pockets, so don’t be afraid to seek advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.