EXTENDING the notice period before a landlord can raise eviction proceedings against tenants during the pandemic has been both necessary and essential in the public health interest.

Providing statutory homeless services during Covid-19 has not been easy for local authorities. Likewise, housing associations have had to overcome the logistical challenges of letting homes to homeless persons during peak lockdown.

How would the system cope under lockdown rules with a large influx of evicted households applying for homeless accommodation? Moreover, how would a large spike in homelessness cases across the country impact on the spread of the virus?

The Scottish Government was right to act swiftly to delay and defer the possibility of such a crisis emerging. Forbearance was a common sense solution – and indeed we have seen forbearance deployed across a range of areas, including mortgage, loan and credit card payment holidays, debt enforcement, and bankruptcy.

Eviction notice periods for private and social renters are generally four weeks, but the 2020 Coronavirus (Scotland) Act extended this to six months for rent arrears and three months for anti-social behaviour. For rent arrears during lockdown this has meant no-one can raise new eviction proceedings until after 30 September 2020.

The First Minister has indicated that proposals to further extend rent forbearance measures will be put before the Scottish Parliament next month. This is to be welcomed. It doesn’t mean people can’t or won’t be subject to new eviction proceedings – that will happen where notices have already been served.

What a further extension would do is reduce the overall level of new eviction cases. It’s akin to building a temporary dam with holes. The flow of new cases would be dramatically reduced until next spring. It is hard to argue against this logic while the pandemic remains prevalent and there is a very real fear of a winter resurgence of Covid19 cases.

Some voices from the professional bodies who represent landlords in Scotland have been critical of the proposed extension to eviction notice forbearance. David Bookbinder, of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations, (GWSF) has said: “Extending the timescale for giving longer notice periods in arrears and anti-social behaviour cases is a kick in the stomach for the vast majority of tenants who try to pay their rent and respect others”.

Yet where is the evidence that lots of tenants have chosen not to pay their rent? I’ve spent over 25 years representing tenants at Glasgow law centres and have rarely come across a person who chose not to pay their rent. People value their homes. They care about them. We all need a home. Anyone can get into financial trouble; especially so in the pandemic.

Mr Bookbinder said: “You won’t find a single group of council or housing association tenants anywhere in Scotland that thinks it’s ok for willful non-payment of rent or serious anti-social behaviour to go without sanction for a year or more”.

That would be true but for the fact it’s not what the law says. Anti-social behaviour cases have only been delayed by an extra two months; tenants engaging in abusive behaviour or general criminality can and will be evicted. New rent arrears cases during lockdown can be lodged at the court or tribunal from October onwards.

All that an extension would do is continue this approach during the pandemic – delays themselves would not be extended. It is a misnomer to suggest there is an eviction ban in Scotland. There isn’t. The threat of eviction for many tenants looms large like a Sword of Damocles. No-one wants to lose their home.

I remember 20 years ago during the passage of the Abolition of Poindings and Warrant bill, creditors warned of brimstone and treacle if the bill was passed. Debtors would hoard their movable goods, and these would be untouchable by creditors. At the time I said oh yes, we will have Mrs McGinty sitting in her hoose in Possilpark with a Picasso on the wall; a wee Aladdin’s Cave.

The prejudice or assumptions made against working class people and those in financial difficulty knows no bounds.

Delaying and slowing down the number of eviction cases during the pandemic makes eminent sense.

With face-to-face advice sessions restarting this week after five long months, it will be vital to provide good quality free money, debt, benefits and legal advice to tenants who are struggling to make ends meet.

The priority for any solicitor or advisor will be to ensure that a client’s rent or a mortgage can be paid; and that arrears can be repaid on an affordable and sustainable basis.

Free help in Glasgow is available from Govan Law Centre on 0800 043 0306 – Citizens Advice on 0800 028 1456 – and Shelter Scotland on 0808 800 4444.