Taking action on eviction
Changes to rent arrears law in Scotland aim to prevent evictions. Shirley Evans, associate at Anderson Strathern, explains
Three major changes governing eviction because of rent arrears for social landlords in Scotland were introduced on 1 August 2012, and are relevant when terminating a Scottish secure tenancy agreement.
Before evicting a tenant based on rent arrears, landlords must fulfil a series of ‘pre-action requirements’. These will: provide tenants with clear information about tenancy terms and the amount of arrears; make reasonable efforts to provide tenants with advice and assistance on their eligibility for housing benefit and other financial assistance; provide tenants with information, sources of advice and assistance in debt management; and make reasonable efforts to agree a reasonable repayment plan for rent and arrears.
The requirements also stop landlords not serving a notice of proceedings if a tenant has applied for housing benefit, but which has not yet been determined and, in the landlord’s opinion, is likely to result in benefit being paid at a level allowing the tenant to pay, or reduce by an acceptable amount, the outstanding rent or any other arrears.
PARs also prompt tenants to contact the local authority, unless the landlord is the local authority.
The PARs simply put current best practice into legislative form - they are not new. It is hoped the requirements will create greater consistency of practice ensuring landlords and tenants always try to resolve matters before proceeding to eviction as a last resort.
Social landlords should refer to Guidance for social landlords on pre-action requirements and seeking repossession of social housing issued by the Scottish Government on 18 June 2012 for full information.
New-style notice of proceedings
There are now two new separate ‘notices of proceedings’, issued to tenants before court action, depending on whether the case involves arrears. The notices list the PARs where eviction is based on arrears. Landlords will be required to set out steps taken on the notice including meeting dates, letters, repayment plans as well as recording where the tenant has not engaged.
The wording used will need to reflect the circumstances of each individual case and may prove challenging for those landlords dealing with large numbers of arrears cases.
New termination rules
A Scottish secure tenancy agreement will not be terminated when decree of eviction is granted for arrears; it will end when the tenant is evicted. There will be a maximum period of six months to evict as set by the court, and if the eviction does not proceed within the time granted, the eviction decree will cease to have effect. Should any further arrears occur, a landlord will be required to comply with the PARs again before serving a new notice of proceedings.
These new rules will help alleviate anxieties currently surrounding the acceptance of post-decree ‘rent’ and will give more opportunity to resolve matters and avoid eviction. Whether these new changes reduce the number of evictions carried out in the social sector in Scotland remains to be seen in light of the new welfare reforms.