The Bill proposes to make a number of reforms to both the social housing sector, and also the private-rented sector. In respect of the social housing sector, the policy memorandum which accompanies the Bill states that the Bill's general intention is to "allow landlords to make best use of social housing" and "increase the flexibility that landlords have when allocating housing". In respect of the private sector changes, these are intended to "provide more efficient, accessible and specialist access to justice for landlords and tenants".
Some of the key proposals of the Bill are summarised below:
- Abolition of the Right to Buy
Entitlement to the Right to Buy and the calculation of the discount available has undergone several changes since the right was with consolidated in the Housing (Scotland) Act of 1987, with the Housing (Scotland) Acts of 2001 and 2010 limiting and in some cases exempting the Right to Buy. Not unexpectedly the Bill goes a step further by proposing to abolish the Right to Buy after a period of 3 years from the date the Bill is enacted. Until abolition, the Bill makes amendments to clarify certain rights of entitlement.
- Changes to preferences for allocation of social housing
At present, social landlords are required to give reasonable preference to certain categories of people in allocating social housing. The Bill, in effect, proposes that these categories will continue to include those who are homeless (and at risk of becoming homeless) or who are currently living in unsatisfactory housing conditions and who have unmet housing needs, but adds another category, that of tenants who are under-occupying. Landlords will continue to be able to prioritise other groups so long as "reasonable preference" is given to the three statutory groups. The Bill will also require social landlords to consult with tenants, applicants, tenants' organisations and such other persons as the landlord thinks fit on priorities within their allocation policies.
- Changes to assignation, subletting, joint tenancies and succession
The Bill proposes a qualifying period of 12 months before a tenant can apply to assign or sublet their home and similarly any putative beneficiary of such an assignation or sublet or application to convert to a joint tenancy will require to have lived in the home for 12 months and have notified the landlord in advance that the property was their main home.
The Bill proposes to tighten the rules on succession by introducing a 12 month qualifying period for family members and carers.
- Extended rights for Landlords to tackle anti-social behaviour
A social landlord's existing rights to convert a Scottish secure tenancy to a short Scottish secure tenancy has been widened under the Bill's proposals. Currently this power is only available where a tenant has been evicted for anti-social behaviour in the last 3 years or has been the subject of an ASBO in the last 3 years. Under the provisions of the Bill, where a tenant has engaged in anti-social behaviour in or near their home in the previous 3 years, a social landlord will now have the option of serving a notice on the tenant which will have the effect of converting a Scottish secure tenancy to a short Scottish secure tenancy. This has the effect of limiting the tenancy term and gives the landlord extended rights to recover possession at the expiry of the tenancy.
- All Private Rented Housing disputes to be referred to the Private Rented Housing Panel (PRHP)
Currently, the PRHP only has jurisdiction to deal with breaches of the Repairing Standard brought by a tenant. Other disputes, including re-possessions, are heard in the Sheriff Court. Under the new proposals all civil private rented sector disputes will, instead, be referred to a First-tier Tribunal of three members with specialist knowledge of housing.
- Local Authorities to be able to enforce the Repairing Standard.
Local authorities (and other third parties specified in regulations) will now be able to apply to the PRHP for a determination that a private landlord has failed to comply with the requirements of the repairing standard. The repairing standard is contained within the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 and lays down the minimum standard which private landlords must comply with in maintaining the properties they lease. Currently it is only a tenant who is able to enforce the repairing standard, therefore this proposal allows the local authority to make a third-party application, which should further enhance the protection available to tenants.
The Bill contains some other provisions that will be of interest in this area, including proposals for the reform of landlord registration and the regulation of letting agents by introducing a Register and Code of Practice for letting agents.
The call for evidence invites interested parties to make submissions to the Scottish Government up to 28 February 2014. For those wishing to find out about the Bill in more detail, or to make a submission, please follow this link or contact Richard Wilson on 0131 247 1104.