by Aoife Deery, Senior policy officer, CAS Social Justice team.
This article was first published in the Herald on 11 July 2022.
The rented housing sector in Scotland is about to undergo some big changes as work gets underway to make the draft Rented Sector Strategy a reality. But in order to make the most of this once in a generation opportunity to make the rented sector more fair, we need to understand more about it.
The Scottish Government, housing organisations and others with an interest in housing are rightly taking a close look at the sector and how to best regulate it. This involves many challenges, including how to address illegal evictions, defining affordability and ensuring there’s sufficient supply to meet demand.
CAS has a particular interest in the private rented sector, driven by how many people approach us for advice in this area. Our case evidence gives us a unique insight into the problems renters face, but we also need to understand the wider landscape of renting. Incredibly, no official data on actual rents is collected and published in Scotland. Also, when registering a property for rent, landlords don’t have to register any details about its characteristics, except for safety certificates.
So CAS has been calling for better data collection, particularly on the private rented sector, for a long time. To be clear, we don’t support the collection of data for data’s sake. It must be relevant, useful and not onerous to provide or collect. Landlord registration systems are already in place in all local authorities, and we see them as a good starting place to collect this data. It could be as simple as asking for further information at more frequent intervals from landlords as part of the landlord registration process.
An excellent project run by Argyll and Bute Citizens Advice Bureau illustrates what I mean. They recently carried our research into the experiences of private renters and would-be private renters in the area. The research consisted of a survey which 155 people completed, followed by five focus groups. This uncovered a wealth of information and insight into renting in the area, including the challenge of supporting a re-emerging tourist industry which the area’s economy heavily relies on. Findings reflected a strong sense that there is a lack of accommodation for people working in this industry, as well as accommodation for key workers, with some participants sharing anecdotes of nursing staff having to turn down local job offers due to not being able to find a home.
Unsurprisingly for an area so reliant on tourism, the impact of short-term lets emerged as a strong theme. We hope that the new licencing schemes being set up across Scotland are effective in achieving the balance between accommodation for local people and tourists. But again, the effective gathering of data will be key to this.
So as the Argyll and Bute example shows, collecting the right information would tell us a lot more about the rented sector in the round and what interventions are appropriate to ensure people are able to access safe, warm and affordable homes.
As Scotland sets out to make changes in the way our rented housing systems work, now is a good time to reflect on what we actually know and don’t know, and to fill in those gaps.