11 Apr 2014

Overview of the Housing (Scotland) Bill 2013

Overview of the Housing (Scotland) Bill 2013

Nicola-Jane Scott, Dispute Resolution Solicitor, provides an overview of the Housing (Scotland) Bill 2013, highlighting the key provisions for both landlords and tenants.

Nicola-Jane Scott, Dispute Resolution Solicitor, provides an overview of the Housing (Scotland) Bill 2013, highlighting the key provisions for both landlords and tenants.

The Scottish Government introduced the Housing (Scotland) Bill 2013, into the Scottish Parliament on 22nd November 2013. It is likely to receive Royal Assent in the summer or autumn of 2014, to become the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014. The purpose of this Bill is to provide additional protection for tenants in the private rented sector and permanent residents of mobile home sites; to support improvements in housing quality in the private rented and privately-owned sectors; to make better use of the existing stock of social rented homes and to provide more efficient access to justice for landlords and tenants in the private rented sector.

Part 1 of the Bill contains provisions to abolish the Right to Buy for tenants of social landlords. This provision cannot be enforced until the end of a three year period from the date the Bill receives Royal Assent. It has been argued that this period is excessive and it is hoped that this will be reduced after consultation. The Scottish Government’s policy objectives for ending the Right to Buy are to protect and enhance social housing for future generations and to safeguard the investment made in social housing over many generations.  By ending the Right to Buy, the Government estimates that around 15,500 houses could be kept in the social sector over a ten year period. Although, some tenants will lose the Right to Buy, the Government has reiterated that there are now a range of schemes in place to support tenants in becoming home owners, such as Help to Buy and the Low-cost Initiative for First Time Buyers (LIFT), which did not exist a number of years ago.

Part 2 of the Bill relates to social housing. The provisions in this section are intended to provide better outcomes for communities by increasing the flexibility that landlords have when allocating housing, allowing landlords to make best use of social housing, giving landlords further measures to tackle antisocial behaviour, providing further protection for tenants, particularly tenants with short Scottish secured tenancies, by strengthening their rights in a number of ways and clarifying existing legislation on how short Scottish Secure Tenancies operate.

An important change introduced by the Bill, is to transfer the responsibility for hearing civil cases relating to the private rented sector from the sheriff court to a newly established First -tier Tribunal (Part 3 of the Bill). These cases include repossession and various non- repossession cases. The aim of this new system is to provide a more efficient, accessible and specialist access to justice for both landlords and tenants in that sector. The First -tier Tribunal is due to be established under the Tribunals (Scotland) Bill which was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 9th May 2013.  Cases would be heard by a panel consisting of legal members and ordinary members. Legal members would be legally qualified and would have experience of relevant areas of housing law. Ordinary members would have an appropriate qualification or experience in a relevant area. The intention is for the tribunal to have ordinary members with a range of relevant experience. It is hoped by the Government that the addition of a housing specialist in the decision-making will improve both the consistency and effectiveness of decisions. The Tribunals (Scotland) Bill also provides that all tribunal members when sitting in tribunals will have the same status and capacity as the judiciary. Tribunal members will be appointed by Scottish Ministers after recommendation by the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland following its independent appointment processes.

Part 4 of the Bill seeks to further regulate the letting agent industry in Scotland. The Bill creates a requirement for letting agents to register as an agent, adhere to a statutory code of practice and sets up a dispute resolution process for landlords, agents and tenants. The aim is twofold, firstly to promote high standards of service and levels of professionalism across the country and secondly to provide landlords and tenants with a more accessible method by which to resolve disputes where these arise.        

Other provisions within the Bill include enhanced local authority powers to improve the quality of houses in the private sector (Part 6 of the Bill) and the introduction of licensing for mobile home sites (Part 5 of the Bill).

The Scottish Parliament has begun scrutiny of the Bill. Stage 1 is scheduled to be debated in Parliament on 24th April 2014. It is hoped that the Bill will create further protection for tenants in Scotland however some concerns have been raised by social and private landlords as to the extent of the proposed provisions and these will be considered further at the Consultation stage.

Nicola- Jane Scott, Solicitor

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