Revealed: over 1300 eviction orders granted despite 'ban'

Revealed: over 1300 eviction orders granted despite ‘ban’

Revealed: over 1300 eviction orders granted despite 'ban' 5

More than 1,300 evictions were granted during Scotland’s so-called eviction ‘ban’ while many tenants were forced to rack up thousands in debts before being offered social housing, a major new investigation by The Ferret has found.

The findings come from exclusive analysis of decisions by Scotland’s housing tribunal  during the 17-month ban. It was announced as emergency legislation to protect tenants from the cost of living crisis and ran from October 2022 to March 2024.

Landlords could still apply for evictions with the tribunal during the ban, but in some circumstances these could not be enforced for six months or until the ban was lifted. However exceptions were made for those who were in substantial arrears or whose landlord wanted to sell a property due to their own financial difficulty.

The Ferret’s analysis found more than 80 per cent of the 1,633 eviction applications considered during the ban were granted. Our research suggests the majority would have been enforced due to the loopholes in the legislation.

We also found dozens of cases where tenants were told by councils that they would only be given council or social housing if they received an eviction order. 

Some said they had been advised they could be found to be “intentionally homeless” if they did not have an order, meaning their council would not be responsible for finding them a home.

Waiting for an eviction is a lengthy process and some vulnerable tenants – including single parents, elderly and disabled people – ran up hefty debts renting accommodation they could no longer afford while waiting.

Housing campaigners said our analysis showed there was “never a meaningful eviction ban” for those living at “the sharpest end of the housing emergency”. 

The Scottish Government said tenants rights in Scotland remained the “strongest in the UK”. It said the policy was “never intended to be a ‘ban’ on evictions” but was to delay enforcement so tenants had “additional time to access support and find alternative accommodation”. 

However both the SNP and the Scottish Greens – who were in coalition when the measure was introduced – have repeatedly referred to it as an eviction ban.

The Greens said the ban had provided “vital protections” to tenants. But the party admitted it could “not make the permanent and structural changes” needed. 

Revealed: over 1300 eviction orders granted despite 'ban' 6
More than 80 per cent of the 1,633 eviction applications considered during the ban were granted. Image: Andrii Zorii/iStock

‘Stay put’

The Ferret checked every eviction application lodged during the eviction ban to see if they were granted. We also looked in depth at the tribunal cases for four sample months across the ban period — November 2022, April and September 2023, and March 2024.

On average, tenants in around one fifth of hearings told the tribunal their council said they should ‘stay put’ and wait for an eviction order to be granted before they would rehome them.

Many of those told to stay accrued arrears stretching into the tens of thousands of pounds.

In one case a mother of two teens – one whom court papers reveal recently attempted to take their own life — said that the local council told them “nothing would be done about rehousing them until an order for possession had been granted”. The mother suffered from depression and anxiety, was on benefits and had not paid rent for 18 months, building up a total of £8,000 in arrears. 

One man said he had been on the waiting list for social housing for 19 years without an offer by the council. He cared for his 87-year-old stepdad who lived 50 yards away from him and had considered his tenancy a long-term one. In fact he had signed a short-term tenancy in 2011 and its term had long expired. 

In another case a woman who herself was working for her local council’s housing department faced eviction despite claiming to have been on the housing list with her two children for a decade. 

One tenant said her council told her “18,000 people are waiting for housing” and that “not much was available”. 

It’s clear that for those living at the sharpest end of the housing emergency, there was never a meaningful eviction ban at all.

Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland

Ruaraidh Dempster, the national secretary of tenants’ union Living Rent, said the situation for many renters was becoming “more and more explosive” with the “homelessness system on the brink of collapse”.

Dempster added: “Even with the bandage protections of the eviction ban and the rent cap, thousands of tenants have been evicted whether through the tribunal or through ‘silent evictions’, where tenants just leave after an eviction notice, not able to cope with the stress and uncertainty of a tribunal process.”

Scotland needs “rigorous rent controls which bring sky-high rents down and improve conditions, greater protections against unfair evictions and ability to challenge eviction notices, and the building of more council homes,” he said.

He argued councils were using excuses like the claim that tenants “need an eviction order” to avoid fulfilling their responsibility to house people in need. 

However, according to Tony Cain, currently the policy manager of the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, the move is the result of a “chronic shortage of social housing”. 

Cain said the tribunal decisions showed councils “understandably” pushing back on rehousing tenants who still have somewhere to live and are going through the eviction process.

He added: “Councils are forced to focus on those in emergency situations right now. It’s not a preventative approach but it is driven by the shortage. And it’s hard to overstate just how tight local authority budgets are”. 

Loopholes

Evictions could still be enforced as normal during the ban if a tenant was in substantial arrears, a landlord wanted to move into a property or sell it because of financial hardship, or an application for an eviction was made prior to the ban coming into force.

The two most common reasons for eviction orders to be granted were because of rent arrears or because a landlord wanted to sell or move into the flat.

Landlords said attempts to recoup them had taken both a mental and financial toll. In one case the landlord was living in homeless accommodation himself while pursuing thousands of pounds in rent. 

But in other cases far smaller amounts were owed. The tribunal granted one eviction order against a family with three children who had missed payment of two months’ rent and were £1,100 in arrears. The retired landlord said he wanted to sell the property because the stress it had caused him was “not worth it”.

In another case, the landlord was granted an eviction order so that she could move back into a property to be closer to and care for her mother-in-law. The tenant said she had two disabled daughters living with her as well as an autistic grandson and was described by the tribunal as an “excellent tenant” – a fact they hoped would see her secure accommodation from the local authority. 

A lot of evictions in the early months of the ban were enforceable because an eviction notice or application to the tribunal was made before the ban came into force. In one case in April last year, an eviction was granted so that the landlord could change the property into a holiday let. 

However there were also some examples of the ban providing breathing space to tenants. 

This included one case where a landlord residing in Saudi Arabia applied to evict a couple who lived with their one-year-old son so that a family member could move into the property. The tribunal granted the application but it could not be enforced for six months because the eviction ban applied.

Revealed: over 1300 eviction orders granted despite 'ban'
“The only effect of these short-term, poorly thought-through measures have been to vilify landlords and reduce investment in the private rented sector in Scotland,” said John Blackwood from the Scottish Association of Landlords. Image: travellinglight/iStock

Mercilessly ejected’

The director of Shelter Scotland, Alison Watson, claimed “decades of underinvestment” in social housing had “led to chronic shortages and forced people into insecure and unaffordable tenancies in the private sector”.

“It’s clear that for those living at the sharpest end of the housing emergency, there was never a meaningful eviction ban at all,” Watson told The Ferret. 

“The priority has to be ensuring local homelessness services have the resources they need to do their job and, ultimately, to deliver more social homes; that remains the only viable way to end the housing emergency.”

Scottish Labour MSP, Paul Sweeney, criticised the Scottish government for slashing the affordable housing budget by £196m and said it was “concerning that so many tenants were evicted by private landlords during the eviction ban”. He claimed the eviction ban should have given tenants “peace of mind that, during a period of extreme financial uncertainty, they would not be mercilessly ejected from their homes”. 

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, said the body had warned the eviction ban and rent cap would “not provide certainty for either tenants or landlords”, he claimed. 

The rent cap and eviction ban “delayed evictions rather than prevented them” and were “ideologically driven,” Blackwood argued.

“The only effect of these short-term, poorly thought-through measures have been to vilify landlords and reduce investment in the private rented sector in Scotland, reducing supply and leading to increased costs,” he added.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that tenants’ rights in Scotland are “the strongest in the UK”. 

“The measures put in place were never intended to be a ‘ban’ on evictions. Instead, they ensured that where an eviction was granted, the enforcement of that eviction was paused for up to six months except in certain circumstances, which gave tenants additional time to access support and find alternative accommodation.”

Cosla said a “huge amount of work goes into helping people maintain their tenancies and avoid eviction” with eviction used as “absolutely a last resort”. 

Scottish Greens MSP Ariane Burgess said the “rent freeze and eviction ban provided vital protections that helped a lot of vulnerable households and families across Scotland”.
She added: “Unfortunately, we could not make the permanent and structural changes that are so badly needed by using emergency legislation.

The new first minister must uphold the new Housing Bill, she said, which would introduce a better system of rent controls and provide renters more protection.

This piece was co-published with the Sunday National as part of our joint series Solutions for Scotland. Each month we will focus on one of the biggest issues facing Scotland today and some potential solutions to them. We are starting with the rental crisis.

This piece was co-published with the Sunday National as part of our joint series Solutions for Scotland. Each month we will focus on one of the biggest issues facing Scotland today and some potential solutions to them. We are starting with the rental crisis.

Main image: Circle Creative Studio/iStock travellinglight/iStock

1 comment
  1. I can’t think of a single instance globally of a successful rent control policy. They always fail. It seems Scotland’s can now join that ignominious list. What’s more, any economist could have predicted what happened.

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