Rent Rights

Patrick's speech in Housing Debate

Below is Patrick’s contribution to yesterday’s Scottish Parliament debate on Private Rented Sector housing. The Housing Minister has promised to find out if the Scottish Government holds statistics for homelessness relating to private rented sector evictions.

I thank the Labour Party for bringing this debate to the chamber. To be fair, I should point out that it is by no means the first debate on housing that Opposition parties have brought in the current session, and in those debates I have repeatedly argued that we cannot afford to treat housing like any other commercial transaction. It is different, because it is intimate. It impacts on our physical and mental health, our access to friends, family and neighbours, and our ability to live as part of a community; it impacts on our access to employment and public services; and it impacts on our dignity and our very identity.

However, it is not just that the nature of housing is such that it goes beyond other commercial transactions, but that, as John Mason said, people lack availability and choices. So many people in our society no longer have social rented housing available to them, and many of them can no longer afford to become owner-occupiers at any point in their lives. Private rented housing is the only housing that our society makes available to them for large parts of their lives. That is why we need to take the issue seriously, recognise that this is social provision, expect that of it and regulate it as such.

Mary Fee said that there are many exemplary landlords out there, and I suspect that everyone will recognise that tenants have a wide spectrum of private rented sector experience, ranging from exemplary landlords to quite the opposite. There are those who recognise that the provision of housing is significant and meaningful and that if they charge more rent than they are paying to service the debt that is secured on a property they need to earn the profit that they make. Being a landlord is a job, and there are landlords who understand that and take pride in providing a decent standard of service and ensuring that their tenants are well looked after. There are also landlords who feel a sense of entitlement in raking in the profits. Both ends of the spectrum exist, and there are all forms of behaviour in between.

It is not enough simply to say that more people are going to be in a sector that has doubled in 10 years, and which wants to double again. It is not enough to say that, because the sector is going to be part of the mix, we have to support all landlords. We should support good landlords, and good landlords who provide a standard of service that they can be proud of will have nothing to fear from the imposition of a decent regulatory expectation on the sector.

In her speech, Margaret Burgess recognised that many families spend time in the private rented sector as part of their housing journey—but where is that journey to? The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently issued a report entitled “Young, working and renting” that highlighted the changing nature of poverty and inequality in this country. It said:

“The number of private landlord repossessions is now higher than the number of mortgage repossessions”

and that

“The end of a private rented sector tenancy”

is the primary reason for people becoming homeless. Those are UK statistics, and I would be interested if the minister could confirm whether they are also true at a Scottish level.

Finally, I sound a note of caution about the word “homeseekers”, which we heard from Mr Johnstone. Given that we have already seen the use of euphemisms such as “jobseekers” for unemployed people, we should not make the same mistake and talk about “homeseekers” instead of recognising the significant reality of homelessness in our society.

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