Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing & Planning pens an open letter to Council, Housing Association and Housing Co-operative tenants in Scotland.
In the time of a few months, none one could have imagined the effect that Covid-19 would have on Scotland. I know this has been an extremely difficult time for you and your families. It has brought unmatched problems for our country.
I am writing to social housing tenants to give information and advice. This is after the sharing of Scotland’s Route Map for moving out of the crisis. It sets out the steps that will help us to return to a more normal life. This is being done on a gradual basis, as quickly and fairly as possible. It is being matched with careful monitoring of the virus.
As we move through the stages of easing rules we are giving guidance on what this will mean for everyone. Individual landlords are now beginning to plan for resuming services after the guidance is available. They will be taking account of local guidance.
During this time I have been particularly impressed at how people have come together to support each other. I greatly appreciate the inspiring community effort that we’ve seen up and down the country.
I want to thank every single individual, organisation and volunteer who has responded to the pandemic. Those who have helped to keep people safe, connected, and well. Social landlords who have been working tirelessly to maintain and give essential, wider community services in these testing times.
The safety, security and health of all social housing tenants is key for both the Scottish Government and social landlords. We have worked together to address the problems that have emerged in the social housing sector as time has progressed.
If you’re experiencing financial problems or are having problems paying your rent as a result of coronavirus
If you are experiencing financial problems as a result of coronavirus, there is support available and advice on maximising income. You can access this through your local welfare advice groups including Citizen’s Advice Scotland and the Money Talk Team.
The efforts that tenants are producing to make sure their rent is paid during this difficult time is much appreciated. You must still continue to do so if you are able.
If you have problems paying your rent at any time you should contact your landlord. They will steer you to financial advice sources and agree a plan with you to pay your rent.
Protection from eviction during the pandemic
In response to the public health crisis, the Scottish Government passed an emergency law to protect tenants from eviction. This forces landlords to give longer notice periods to tenants, up to six months, they will take legal course in the Sheriff Court to re-possess a property and end a tenancy. There are shorter notice periods to make sure landlords and courts can continue to deal with antisocial and criminal behaviour. It cannot be resolved by other measures during this time.
Support for victims of domestic abuse
It is important to Scottish Government to make sure that domestic abuse victims gets access to support services they need. For anyone who is or feels they are at risk of abuse, help and support is available to you. This includes police response, online support, helplines, refuges and other services.
You can find more information here: https://safer.scot/information/da/
Allocation of properties and mutual exchange requests
The Scottish Government eased rules on house moves on 29th June. Social landlords are now beginning to plan for resuming allocations safely and for processing mutual exchange requests. For some time to come, most landlords will be prioritising places to those who have become homeless during this time. If you have any questions about moving, apply for housing or have applied for housing with a landlord, contact them. They can give advice on all your housing choices.
Staff and contractor visits to your home
Some will be nervous about having people, contactors and gas engineers in their home to carry out repairs and checks. Your landlord will have clear processes in place to make sure this can happen safely. This is in line with the current public health guidance and including any Personal Protective Equipment needed.
If you have an appointment for a home visit let your landlord know if you are vulnerable, shielding, self-isolating. If you are having symptoms of the virus proper arrangements or rescheduling of the visit can be agreed with you. When an appointment is made you will be told about the process. They will tell you anything you need to do to before the visit.
Repairs, maintenance and planned improvement programmes
Since the start of the virus, social housing landlords have been prioritising repairs. They have also been focusing on giving emergency repairs and other essential services. As we move on, landlords are starting to plan how they can safely start routine repairs and planned maintenance work. This includes programmes such as window, bathroom and kitchen replacement, installation of smoke/carbon monoxide detectors and fire alarms. You should continue to tell your landlord of any repairs as normal. Your landlord is working through back logs, your repair may take a bit longer than normal, please bear with them. Your landlord will contact you if they need to get into your home to carry out any work. They will have processes to make sure this happens safely and in line with the current public health guidance.
Gas safety checks
Landlords are continuing to make every effort to meet legal safety obligations, such as annual gas safety inspections. You should receive a gas inspection letter. Contact your landlord if you are vulnerable, shielding, self-isolating or having symptoms of the virus. Proper arrangements or rescheduling of the visit can be agreed with you. Please do not ignore the letter. Your landlord may not know about your situation and will continue to contact you to arrange a visit. These checks are essential to make sure your home is safe. It is therefore very important that you allow access to your home so they can be carried out.
If you smell gas, or you have concerns about appliance safety, call the gas emergency service provider: 0800 111 999. Switch off appliances until the gas emergency supplier, or a registered gas engineer, has confirmed that the appliances are safe.
Tenants in Scotland have displayed exceptional respect, care and kindness towards their neighbours in these difficult times. Regrettably not everyone has done so and cases of antisocial behaviour are still going on. Social landlords take anti social behaviour very seriously. They have a range of measures, including legal remedies and liaising with groups, to deal with anti-social or criminal behaviour. This breaks the rules of their tenancy agreement.
If you experience anti-social behaviour you should contact your landlord in the first cases. If you feel that you are in any danger you should contact Police Scotland. Your landlord will be able to give you help and advice on what they can do to fix the situation. More information can be found online at https://www.mygov.scot/antisocial-behaviour/
The coronavirus outbreak has had an effect on everyone’s daily lives. Information and sources of support can be found at the mygov.scot website.
This covers a wide range of problems including looking after yourself and others, looking after your mental health, food, medicine. There is also information about work, unemployment and sick leave, domestic abuse and child protection.
More advice on coronavirus
It is essential that we all continue to follow public health guidance. We must practise good hand hygiene and follow the guide on who, where and how we meet others. The Scottish Government guidance on Covid-19 is looked at regularly so please check for updates at www.gov.scot/coronavirus
Advice is available from the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus helpline. Telephone: 0800 111 4000, Scotland’s Citizens Advice helpline. Telephone: 0800 028 1456 and Shelter’s Housing Advice helpline -telephone: 0808 800 4444.
If you have specific questions about your home/tenancy that need to be dealt with quickly, contact your landlord directly.
I would like to thank social housing tenants and landlords for everything you have done to control the viruses spread. Protect the NHS and save lives.