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Rent controls and homelessness prevention duty included in new Housing Bill

The bill includes new duties for social landlords, health boards and the police to ask about a person’s housing situation | Alamy

Rent controls and homelessness prevention duty included in new Housing Bill

The Scottish Government is set to bring in rent controls, stronger protections from eviction and new homelessness prevention measures as part of its new Housing Bill.

Lodged today, the long-awaited legislation would obligate local authorities to submit a report to ministers assessing rent levels and rate of increases in private tenancies.

This report would include any recommendations to designate rent control areas, though the power to implement such controls would lie with Scottish ministers who must be satisfied that restricting rent increases is “necessary and proportionate”.

But opponents of the bill warn such action could cause landlords to leave the sector, ultimately pushing prices higher as demand outstrips supply.

The bill is a major plank of the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and Scottish Greens.

Tenants’ rights minister Patrick Harvie said: “A fairer, well-regulated rented sector is good for both tenants and landlords. Tenants benefit from improved conditions and security, while good responsible landlords will thrive when their good practice is recognised by regulation.”

Other measures include giving tenants’ the right to decorate their homes and to keep pets.

The Scottish Association of Landlords has warned the legislation would “exacerbate Scotland’s housing crisis”.

Chief executive John Blackwood said: “The rent control proposals, as has been seen in places like Ireland which has similar measures, will see reduced investment and more landlords leaving the sector, leading to higher costs for tenants.

“The effects of Scottish Government policies in the [private rental sector] are already being felt, with rising costs reducing supply and placing more pressure on council and housing association properties that they are struggling to cope with.

“As landlords have said for a number of years, what is needed is a coordinated plan to build more social housing, encourage more investment in private renting and the building of more owner-occupied homes.”

The bill also includes new duties for social landlords, health boards and the police to ask about a person’s housing situation to avoid a person becoming homeless where possible.

It also reforms provision for people threatened with homelessness up to six months ahead and includes provisions for tenants experiencing domestic abuse.

Housing minister Paul McLennan said: “Early action, through the kinds of measures included in the Housing Bill, results in fewer people reaching the point of housing crisis.

“It also means people facing homelessness have more choice and control over where they live, helping them to maintain relationships in their community and stay in work.”

Housing charity Crisis has welcomed the new measures but say it must be backed by appropriate funding.

Chief executive Matt Downie said: “If implemented properly, these plans hold the potential to create a truly world-leading homelessness system, but to be effective, they need to be properly resourced.”

The bill will now begin stage one scrutiny by a Holyrood committee.

The Scottish Conservatives say the proposed legislation “falls short of what is needed”. Miles Briggs said: “Homelessness levels have soared and record number of families are living in temporary accommodation. Nothing in this bill as it stands will help to address those issues.

“SNP-Green ministers should go back to the drawing board, declare a national housing emergency and lay out proper plans to support Scotland’s housing needs.”

Scottish Labour has said the bill proves there is “no clear plan” from the government on housing. MSP Mark Griffin added: “The bill does not offer enough to tackle homelessness,  is slow to help renters and has done nothing to properly encourage affordable home building.”

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