– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th October 2022.
The next item of business is stage 3 of the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have the bill as amended at stage 2—that is, Scottish Parliament bill 18A—the marshalled list and the groupings of amendments.
The division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for around five minutes for the first division of the debate. The period of voting for the first division will be 45 seconds. Thereafter, I will allow a voting period of one minute for the first division after a debate.
Members who wish to speak on any group of amendments should press their request-to-speak buttons or type R in the chat function as soon as possible after I call the group.
Members should now refer to the marshalled list of amendments.
The Presiding Officer:
Group 1 is entitled “Registered social landlords: assessment of financial impact”. Amendment 1, in the name of Mark Griffin, is the only amendment in the group.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as the owner of a private rented property in the North Lanarkshire Council area.
All week, through the various stages of the bill, I have outlined substantial concerns about the rent cap and how it impacts on the social rented sector’s ability to continue its plan to build new affordable housing that directly tackles Scotland’s housing crisis, as well as the sector’s ability to maintain and upgrade its existing properties. The sector has clearly rung that alarm bell and we should listen to it. I am seeking to make sure that tenants do not suffer unintended consequences and that providers in the sector—social landlords that invest in sustainable affordable housing—continue to provide the housing that we so badly need in the vast quantity that we urgently need.
Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government said that my amendment 80 was not necessary because
“The statement of reasons will be much more comprehensive than that, because we will include all relevant information.”—[
, 5 October 2022; c 139.]
Amendment 1 therefore labours a point from yesterday, but is seeking to put into the legislation the safeguard of consultation of registered social landlords and details of how they will be adequately resourced if they suffer detriment.
As I have said previously, the situation risks tenants being affected as much as landlords. Abronhill Housing Association in my region would have to suspend all its investment programmes well into 2024.
The regulator puts the cost to the sector; we have to remember that the cost is cumulative with every year. £50 million of income lost next year could reach £230 million of income lost to the sector by 2027. According to Scottish Parliament information centre modelling, because seven out of 10 social tenants receive housing benefit or universal credit, it would be the Treasury that would be better off—not social landlords or social tenants—if the freeze were to continue past March next year.
The finances of housing associations have been a key issue at various stages of the debate. The issue has been raised not only by members from every Opposition party but by members on the Government’s own back benches. There is the risk that the action that we have called for—freezing of rents, which is action that we have welcomed being taken for the short term—will impact the finances of the people whom we expect to build the social housing that we desperately need. That is at odds with the long-term ambition to grow the social housing stock to get us out of the emergency that we are in.
I gently say that if what I propose will be included in the review, I do not see any harm in supporting my amendment 1. It would give social landlords the assurance that their finances would be considered at the point of the review and would, I think, give assurance to Parliament, as well.
As I said, it has been raised by members across the parties, including members on the Government’s back benches, that we need to seriously consider the financial impact on the social housing sector and give comfort to Parliament as well as to registered social landlords.
I move amendment 1.
As members know, we are working closely with the social sector and have established an official-led short-life task-and-finish group to consider the best approach to take from 1 April.
That work includes consideration of the impact of measures in the short-term and long-term business plans of the sector.
We have lodged Government amendment 2, which is in the next group, to bring greater certainty to the social sector by enhancing the Scottish ministers’ reporting requirement under section 8 of the bill. That will require us, in the first half of January, to outline what will happen with any social sector cap—whether the current rent cap will expire, or be extended, suspended or increased.
We are working very closely with the sector to agree appropriate action and the enhanced reporting requirements. That engagement will secure certainty and the comfort that Mr Griffin is asking for well in advance of 1 April. I will describe what the Government’s amendment 2 will do in a little bit more detail when I move the amendment in the next group.
It is worth noting that section 8 already requires us to review the appropriateness, necessity and proportionality of the rent cap overall, going forward. That said, I will not be able to support amendment 1. I invite Mr Griffin not to press it.
I appreciate what the minister has said and Scottish Labour will support amendment 2, which will be debated in group 2. However, he has not given a commitment that the finances of registered social landlords, or the impact on the affordable housing supply programme, will be taken into account i n the bill.
Amendment 1 is supported by Shelter Scotland and by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. This morning, Shelter sent an email to all members, in which it said:
“The measures in this bill should not impact on the delivery of new social homes, given that this is a structural solution to the housing emergency, to address the need for secure and affordable housing. Specifically, the social housing rent freeze or cap measures must be fully funded. Any reduction in rent revenues which are required to deliver the new social homes to reduce housing need must be provided by the Scottish Government to ensure that homes can still be delivered.”
Shelter is absolutely right about that. Amendment 1 would enable the Government to show that it was carrying out such a financial assessment. I will therefore press amendment 1.
The Presiding Officer:
There will be a division. As this is the first division, I suspend proceedings for around five minutes to enable members to access the digital voting system.
14:36 Meeting suspended.
14:41 On resuming—
Members should cast their votes now.
The vote is now closed.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I would have voted no.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app froze, but I would have voted yes.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I had issues with my app, too. I would have voted yes.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 45, Against 63, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 1 disagreed to.
Group 2 is on reporting. Amendment 2, in the name of the minister, is the only amendment in the group.
I hope that amendment 2 will go some way towards allaying some of the concerns that were expressed in relation to the previous group.
As I alluded to a moment ago in relation to amendment 1, I want to ensure that the legislation further reflects the distinctive circumstances of the social rented sector. That acknowledges the concerns that were expressed across the chamber yesterday, and were clearly heard. It is right that tenants in the social rented sector are protected during this time, but we also recognise that there are critical differences in how rents are consulted on and agreed, and in how the sector is funded compared with the private rented sector.
With all that in mind, as I have indicated, we have committed to working closely with the social rented sector through an official-led short-life task and finish group to consider the best approaches from 1 April onwards. On top of that, the cabinet secretary and I have welcomed recent opportunities to discuss the way forward with representatives of registered social landlords and local authorities.
We are keen to develop an agreed way forward, and we are optimistic that that can be done at pace and in a genuine partnership with the sector. Our aim is to ensure the best possible balance between keeping rents affordable and continuing social rented sector investment of rental income in quality homes and appropriate wider support to tenants.
Amendment 2 commits the Government to setting out a decision to provide certainty to the social rented sector by 14 January 2023 at the latest as part of the required three-month reporting requirements in the bill. The amendment requires us to confirm whether we intend to raise the cap, suspend or expire the rent restrictions, or continue with a zero per cent cap for the social sector only. We want all social landlords to be as clear as possible as early as possible, and we look forward to developing an agreed approach that will inform that decision. That is absolutely our preferred way forward.
I want to give the sector a very clear direction of travel as soon as possible, and I trust that the proposed amendment provides clarity on the timeframe for that critical decision being made well ahead of 1 April next year. I can also give a commitment today that we will bring forward any required regulations to underpin that approach, including ensuring that social landlords will be able to practically raise rents from 1 April next year if that is part of the agreement that we come to.
We want to move forward in a collaborative way. We will be looking to set out the principles and process in partnership with the short-life task and finish group to inform social landlords’ consultations with their tenants and ensure that those go ahead in the coming months. Those consultations with tenants will be critical in informing our approach and the decision that we set out in January.
I encourage members to support the amendment.
I move amendment 2.
I thank the minister for taking into account some of the conversations that went on last night, and I am pleased to see that the amendment adds a level of reporting that was not seen before.
Will the minister explain why there is no requirement for the Government to explain in the report the costs of the implications to the Government, the Scottish people and landlords and tenants? There is a big improvement from the report simply having to prove that the proposal was proportionate and required, but will the minister explain why he is ignoring the costs? The financial memorandum says that the costs are somewhere between £3.5 million and £32.5 million. There seems to be rather a large gap of knowledge there.
Obviously, we are not ignoring—not for a moment—the financial aspects, but they are matters for discussion between the Government and the sector as part of the work of the short-life task and finish group. That is the appropriate place for those matters to be considered. I do not believe that they need to be included in the text of the amendment.
I do not have anything to add to what I said in my opening remarks on the amendment. I encourage members to vote for it.
Amendment 2 agreed to.
The Presiding Officer:
Group 3 is on expiry of section 9. Amendment 3, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is the only amendment in the group.
This amendment should have been debated yesterday, but it got lost in the rush. I should explain that point, in case the minister thinks that I am raising a new issue at stage 3.
The amendment would have the effect of preventing schedule 3 from coming to an end, and it would allow ministers to set rules by regulation in relation to rent adjudication.
In the consultation on my Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill in the previous parliamentary session, an issue arose about cases in which tenants had applied to the tribunal for a rent reduction and ended up with a substantial rent increase. The tribunal increased rents, because its opinion was that that would reflect the market rent. In some cases, the tribunal has been challenged on what the market rent is and, in my view, it has not got that correct.
My concern is about the disincentive for tenants to apply to the tribunal for a rent reduction. They might accept that losing their case would mean that their rent remained the same, but if they thought that they might end up with a rent increase, why would they take such a risk?
I am probing the issue for discussion when the Government considers wider housing reform. I am a bit concerned about how long that is taking, so I wanted to raise the issue now. I do not wish to press the amendment, which is intended to probe an issue.
I move amendment 3.
I appreciate that this is a probing amendment. I welcome the importance that Pauline McNeill attaches to the rent adjudication measures in the bill, which play an important role. We recognise that, once the rent cap ends, a large number of landlords could seek all at once to increase rents. In those circumstances, resetting rents by reference to the open market could result in unmanageable increases for tenants.
It is expected that the existing rent adjudication process will not provide an appropriate mechanism for determining reasonable increases as we transition out of the emergency measures that the bill provides for. It is therefore essential to have a means of amending the adjudication process temporarily, to protect tenants when we move forward—if that is needed—and to ensure that rents do not rise exponentially when we transition out of the application of the rent cap.
We do not intend temporary changes to become permanent. As Pauline McNeill knows, under the new deal for tenants, longer-term work that is on-going will lead to a new housing bill next year. Further work will take place later in the parliamentary session, too. In the programme for government, we reaffirmed our commitment to bring forward long-term rent controls.
Pauline McNeill gave the example of the tribunal deciding to increase rent beyond the level that the landlord had proposed. Within the temporary measures is one form of adjustment that the Government might consider making when we develop proposals.
If Pauline McNeill’s intention is to introduce permanent measures now, I refer her to the response that I gave yesterday to several groups of amendments, which is that emergency legislation is not the place for such measures. We look forward to working collaboratively with members across the Parliament as we develop our longer-term proposals, and I invite Pauline McNeill not to press amendment 3.
I thank the minister for his comprehensive response. I totally acknowledge that the issue would be more appropriately addressed in wider housing reform, but the bill presented a good opportunity for me to make the minister aware that I will pursue the issue with the Government. I am sure that he agrees that, whatever framework we choose for housing reform, we do not want to continue to have legislation that could disincentivise tenants from applying for rent assessments because of the risk of rent increases. Rent controls might well overtake that situation.
On that basis, I am content to seek to withdraw amendment 3.
Amendment 3, by agreement, withdrawn.
The Presiding Officer:
Group 4 is on information that is to be included in a notice of application for a rent increase. Amendment 4, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is grouped with amendment 5.
The amendments concern issues that I raised yesterday at stage 2, when the Government indicated that it would give support if I framed the provisions correctly. That has now been done.
The amendments ensure that a landlord cannot insist on a proposed increase until a rent officer or the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland has approved the increase. Further to that, in their communication to the tenant, the landlord should make it clear that the new rent will not be payable until the application has been approved or otherwise. That is just to make sure that tenants are aware that an application could be refused by the tribunal.
I hope that ministers will now be satisfied that amendments 4 and 5 are in the correct form and that I can move them when the time comes.
I move amendment 4.
I thank Pauline McNeill for lodging amendments 4 and 5 and for working constructively with us. Like Ms McNeill, we want tenants to have the information that they need in relation to an application by their landlord to raise their rent above the level of the cap, in response to having incurred increased costs related to mortgage interest, landlords insurance or service charges. It is important that tenants understand that, even though their landlord might have made an application, they are not required to pay any increase in rent until the process has been completed and the decision has been taken on whether that increase can be made.
I am happy to support amendments 4 and 5 and I urge members to vote for them.
The Presiding Officer:
There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.
The vote is closed.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My system did not load. I would have voted no.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My screen did not refresh. I would have voted yes.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. There seems to be an issue with my phone at the moment, because it is still connecting. I would have voted yes.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 83, Against 29, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 4 agreed to.
Amendment 5 moved—[Pauline McNeill].
The question is, that amendment 5 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
The Presiding Officer:
There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.
The vote is closed.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I know that it is too late but, for the benefit of the
, I point out that I voted in error on amendment 4. I should have voted yes, but I realise that it is too late to have that changed.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 85, Against 28, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 5 agreed to.
Group 5 is on exemptions to eviction moratorium. Amendment 6, in the name of Mark Griffin, is grouped with amendments 7, to 14.
I ask members to support all my amendments in this group, which I have worked on and prepared with Shelter Scotland.
Amendments 6, 10, 13 and 14 would remove the exemption to the eviction moratorium that would allow tenants to be evicted if their home was repossessed from the landlord by a lender. Amendment 8 seeks to increase the threshold of the substantial arrears exception to the moratorium in the social rented sector to £8,500.
Yesterday, the Government voted against my amendments to change the safeguards for landlords, particularly the amendments to remove the substantial arrears exception, on the basis that it was balancing the rights of both landlords and tenants. However, I set out my belief that the balance went slightly too far in favour of landlords as opposed to tenants.
Amendments 6, 10, 13 and 14 do not propose that a lender should become a landlord; instead, it would remove the risk of a tenant losing their home if their landlord’s house was repossessed, especially over the winter. My view is that if we took away the right to evict on the basis of a house being repossessed, that would act as a disincentive to a lender to repossess, which would potentially help the landlord by giving them more time. However, there are opportunities for lenders to seek alternatives to eviction. The lender could sell the property with the tenant in situ to another private landlord, or it could sell the property to a social landlord, thereby giving the private tenant a secure home with lower rent payments each month.
On amendment 8, as I indicated yesterday, Shelter has advised that, in 2019-20, the average arrears of an evicted tenant was around £9,000. Therefore, the threshold of £2,250 that has been set by the Government in the bill is far too low. There is a real risk that that threshold sets a new norm for eviction processes in the social rented sector. Given that evictions only occur when arrears are on average £9,000, that threshold figure is far too low.
The social rented sector does fantastic work to support its tenants in accessing funding to tackle their arrears, set up repayment plans and access unclaimed benefits to keep them in their home, but I am concerned about the low threshold at which the eviction process would be triggered. I am particularly concerned because we know that the average cost to the social sector of rehousing a tenant who has been evicted is £24,000 per household.
I ask Parliament to support the amendments in my name in this group and to note that we will vote for the Government amendments in the group.
I move amendment 6.
I would like to first address amendments 6, 10, 13 and 14 together. These amendments would remove the ability of a lender to recover a property where they need to repossess it because the landlord has defaulted. I understand the member’s concerns and the desire for the property to be sold with the tenant in situ, but we need to recognise that it is still important to ensure the continued viability of the sector and that the lender in those circumstances has a legal duty to recover the debt that is owed through the sale of the property.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen the disastrous consequences for the market of United Kingdom Government proposals. The approach that we have taken in the bill recognises the need to support the continued lender confidence that underpins the sector. Our approach also recognises that, if the borrower—the landlord—is in financial difficulty, preventing the sale of the property will only prolong that unavoidable process.
I am assured that the industry has introduced tailored support, including forbearance, which has been refined following the experience of the Covid pandemic and leaves eviction as a last resort that occurs only after a court has carefully considered the borrower’s individual circumstances. I note that all the possession cases that are going through the court system now involve people who were in long-term financial difficulty pre-pandemic. I must consider the fact that applying the moratorium to those cases will only cause further delay. It could bind owners to further debt and prolong uncertainty for tenants as well.
I am further assured that the Financial Conduct Authority requirements that were introduced during the Covid period have remained. That allows lenders to engage with customers at an earlier point in order to support owners and, therefore, to support tenants. Where a tenant is evicted in such circumstances, should they be unable to find alternative accommodation, the local authority is required to provide anyone at risk of homelessness with support and assistance.
There is a strong case, which we will look to fully explore, for ensuring that all options are available for private rented sector properties to transfer to social rented ownership, with support for tenants to remain in their homes through the transition.
I am concerned that there does not seem to be a published strategy for managing exits from the private rented sector, whether voluntary or as a result of a repossession. I am more than happy not to press the amendments if the Government is able to commit to take forward work on a managed exit strategy for the private rented sector to ensure that tenants stay in situ and then transfer to a social landlord, whether that is an RSL or a council.
We are actively discussing that area and we want to ensure that the options for the kind of transfer that Mr Griffin refers to are explored. The cabinet secretary, colleagues and I have had that discussion and I am happy to ensure that we keep Mr Griffin informed.
However, the right place to look at the issue and to make changes to it is in the context of our longer-term reforms under the new deal for tenants.
I would be pleased if Mr Griffin decides not to press those amendments. If he does decide to press them, I am afraid that I will have to ask members to vote against them.
Although I appreciate that amendment 8 is very well intentioned, I do not believe that the methodology that was used to arrive at a revised threshold of £8,500 for social sector rent reflects the average rent arrears for households that were evicted from that sector. The £8,500 figure is likely to be a significant overestimate. The calculation in the Shelter Scotland report that was used to develop that figure includes arrears in cases where there was no eviction, such as where a tenant with arrears had left a property of their own volition. It also includes other arrears, such as the cost of repairs that a landlord might be trying to recover from a tenant. The £8,500 threshold that is proposed in the amendment would be approximately equivalent to two years’ worth of rent arrears. That level of rent arrears is not in the financial interest of either the social landlord or the tenant, who will still be liable for the arrears even if they are evicted.
I do not share Mr Griffin’s concern that the figure currently in the bill would set a new norm. The Government does not believe that that would be the case.
I think that there is an intervention from behind me.
I thank the minister for giving way. I was going to speak separately, but this is the specific point that I wanted to address, so it is best addressed as an intervention.
I thought that Mr Griffin made a reasonable point in relation to whether the tribunals or courts could do something inherently specific and valuable about the figure of £2,250. If someone meets that threshold, it may give greater credence to an eviction process when we should be relying on pre-action protocols and requirements. The number triggers the potential process, but it should not be an enabling factor in a court granting an eviction; each case should be looked at individually. I think that Mr Griffin was concerned that including that figure in the bill may empower evictions. What reassurances can the minister give that the courts should read absolutely nothing into the figure other than that it enables a process to be enacted, so that it does not enable an eviction to be granted?
Bob Doris is quite right—not least in referring to the requirements under pre-action protocols. I think that all of us in the chamber recognise that landlords in the social rented sector do not pursue evictions in cases of rent arrears or on other grounds without good reason. They tend to take the approach that evictions should be the last resort. I think that the whole Parliament should have confidence that they will continue to act in that spirit.
Therefore, in summary, I cannot support amendment 8 and I urge members to reject it.
I turn now to my amendments 7, 9, 11 and 12. The amendments will provide additional exemptions to the moratorium where a tenant is no longer an employee of a landlord. We have listened to concerns that were raised during stage 2 about the need for additional exemptions to enable employers to recover a property where an
“employee of an agriculture, forestry or other rural land-based business” no longer works for them and they require the property for a new employee. We recognise the importance of all employers being able to recover a property where the tenant is no longer employed in order to free up that accommodation for a new employee, particularly during the current economic crisis.
We do not think that it is appropriate to create a new ground at this time, as was proposed by Jeremy Balfour, and we have therefore based the exemptions on the existing grounds for repossession.
I am grateful to the minister for his amendments, which deal with some of the issues that were raised yesterday in the chamber.
I seek clarification with regard to whether the amendments would cover a situation in which, over the winter period, somebody who was not employed by a farmer used such a property. When that period came to an end, could the farmer evict them to put in people who were going to work for him over the spring and summer, or does someone have to be an employee or former employee to be covered? If it does not go that far, it is only halfway down the road.
I hope that Mr Balfour will forgive me: I am a little bit reluctant to be drawn into very specific hypotheticals. Perhaps he could write to me about a specific instance and I will ask colleagues to reply to him.
As I said, we do not believe that it is appropriate to create a new ground; we think that the approach suggested in the amendments will achieve the intention. I am aware that some stakeholders are keen for the current grounds in the private residential tenancy legislation to be amended. However, once again, as with several other issues that we have discussed, any long-term changes should be taken forward as part of our review of repossession grounds in the future housing bill, rather than in this emergency legislation.
I ask members to support amendments 7, 9, 11 and 12.
Given the Government’s commitment to work on an exit strategy for the private rented sector, I will seek leave to withdraw amendment 6, and I do not intend to move amendments 10, 13 or 14.
I still think that there is a need to consider a higher threshold for the substantial arrears figure. Bob Doris asked whether that figure would then be the threshold for court action; I hope that that would not be the case. However, I am not concerned only about that; I am also concerned that that threshold could then become the new norm in the sector for starting pre-action protocols. It is a low figure when we consider average arrears in the rental sector.
We know that a short-life working group involving the Government and the sector is now in place. Irrespective of whether the amendment is disposed of today, should that point not be a specific item of conversation at that working group?
I agree. I can do the maths and accept that the chamber will probably not agree to amendment 8. I expect the conversation with the sector to carry on in that working group so that tenants are given an assurance that the figure will not become the threshold norm. However, aside from that conversation, which I expect to take place, I am concerned that it will become the norm, and I will move amendment 8.
Amendment 6, by agreement, withdrawn.
Amendment 7 moved—[Patrick Harvie]—and agreed to.
Amendment 8 moved—[Mark Griffin]
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The app failed to work on this occasion. I would have voted no.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My screen has not refreshed, so I am not sure whether my vote was counted. I would have voted no.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division on amendment 8 is: For 20, Against 93, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 8 disagreed to.
Amendment 9 moved—[Patrick Harvie]—and agreed to.
Amendment 10 not moved.
Amendments 11 and 12 moved—[Patrick Harvie]—and agreed to.
Amendments 13 and 14 not moved.
Group 6 is on evidence of financial hardship. Amendment 15, in the name of Mark Griffin, is grouped with amendments 16 to 18.
I ask members to support amendment 15 and the other amendments in this group. Members will be glad to know that I will speak briefly, as we debated a different form of the amendments yesterday. I am glad to have worked constructively with the Government to amend them so that they are in a form that is more broadly acceptable across the Parliament.
The amendments specify in greater detail the details that a landlord would need to provide to the tribunal to demonstrate their financial hardship when seeking to evict in order to sell or live in a property. My colleague Pauline McNeill detailed yesterday that there are far too many cases where the landlord has secured an eviction claiming that they are doing so for sale or to live in the property only for the tenant who has been made homeless to see the property advertised for rent again shortly afterwards.
I ask members to support the amendments in the group.
I move amendment 15.
As Mr Griffin said, he lodged amendments yesterday that were welcome but not quite in a form that we were able to support. I thank him for bringing them back and working with us to ensure that they are in a form that we can support.
Ensuring that landlords have to clearly evidence financial hardship will be an important part of making the moratorium and safeguards work in practice for landlords and tenants. The addition of the examples of evidence that the tribunal can seek and consider is, therefore, welcome.
I urge members to vote for all the amendments in the group.
I have nothing to add other than to press amendment 15.
Amendment 15 agreed to.
Amendments 16 to 18 moved—[Mark Griffin]—and agreed to.
Group 7 is on information to be included in the Scottish landlord register. Amendment 19, in the name of Pauline McNeill, is the only amendment in the group.
I seek to probe the issue and, as amendment 19 is the only amendment in the group, I realise that I will have to seek consent to withdraw it, but I want to address the amendment’s primary purpose.
The amendment would add to the Scottish landlord register data on the rents charged in residential tenancies. There is a lack of data on that, as I think the previous housing minister acknowledged. Rent pressure zones failed for many reasons and the legislation was totally inadequate. One of the reasons that rent pressure zones failed so badly was that the detail was too difficult to pull together, so any authorities who wanted to use the legislation found it difficult to do so.
The fact that the process that rent officers and the First-tier Tribunal use to make decisions on the fairness of rents is often not clear is down to the lack of data. The University of Glasgow’s Urban Big Data Centre notes that
“the PRS is widely acknowledged to be a part of the housing system for which the quality and quantity of data is unsatisfactory”.
Currently, official statistics about private rents are drawn from the rent service Scotland rental market database but, in 2016, 97 per cent of that data came from landlord advertisements, and it does not seem possible to find out whether those rents were actually achieved. In addition, the sample size is too small to permit private rental statistics to be produced at local authority level or, in the case of Scotland’s four main cities, below local authority level.
In their report for Shelter on rent regulation measures in Scotland, Professor Douglas Robertson and Gillian Young note that
“The single biggest barrier to the effective operation of both ‘rent regulation’ provisions is the lack of robust data on the stock of private rented dwellings and the rents being charged. In particular, the ability of existing tenants to challenge a rent rise is compromised by a lack of robust evidence on actual rental market rates.”
Amendment 19 would also mean that a tenant would be better informed as to whether the rent that they were being charged was unfair, and it would give a landlord an idea of whether the rent that they were charging was comparable with other rents. In the case of a tenant, that would allow them to make a better judgment about whether they wanted to appeal their rent.
I hope that the minister will appreciate that the issue that I have chosen to probe today is an important one, given that there is widespread support across the parties for wider reform on housing, and that he will agree that the question of data is crucial to that.
I move amendment 19.
Amendment 19 would oblige the Scottish ministers to lay regulations that
“provide for data on rents to be added to the Scottish Landlord Register ... in order to inform any rent control measures being considered by the Scottish Ministers.”
I welcome the fact that Pauline McNeill has lodged amendment 19 for discussion, and she made some very fair points in presenting it, but there are a number of problems with the amendment. It does not detail what data is to be added to the landlord register; it does not specify how that data is to be collected; and—perhaps crucially—it does not create any powers to collect the data or place obligations on landlords or, indeed, tenants to provide data to the local authorities that operate the register in each local authority area.
Accordingly, additional legislation would be required to mandate the provision of data on rents by all landlords in Scotland. We would also require to put in place a robust statistical data collection system, which is not something that the Scottish landlord register is designed to deliver. The register does not currently contain any information about tenancy terms.
As Pauline McNeill rightly pointed out, we set out proposals for a rent data collection system in “A New Deal for Tenants”, and that received a high level of support in the consultation. However, that will take some time to deliver if we want to get it right and is not best dealt with through the temporary emergency legislation that we are debating today.
I have already set out our commitment to deliver on our new deal for tenants during the course of this session of Parliament. As part of that longer-term work, we will examine how we can improve data on the private rented sector in Scotland. I have had discussions about that with Labour colleagues in the past, and I would be very happy to set up a meeting with Pauline McNeill and my officials to discuss how we can improve data as part of our longer-term development of national rent controls.
However, for the reasons that I have set out, I cannot support amendment 19. Pauline McNeill has indicated that she does not intend to press it, and I would welcome that. If she presses it, I must urge members not to support it.
I will go through the motions of asking Pauline McNeill to wind up and press or withdraw amendment 19.
In winding up and seeking Parliament’s consent to withdraw amendment 19, I simply add that I think that the issue is about more than simply improving the data; the availability of data is essential in enabling landlords and tenants to make decisions. I am content to leave the issue to Mark Griffin, as the Labour Party’s spokesperson, although it is one that I am interested in, as I dealt with it in my proposed fair rents bill.
I will continue to press the Government to recognise the importance of data. The lack of data is one of the reasons for the failure of rent pressure zones, although there were other failings in that legislation.
Let us not make the same mistake again. Let us recognise how important it is to see what rents look like in every region and area of Scotland, so that everyone can make a judgment and so that, when we come to the question of whether rent controls are right, we do that within a framework that clearly shows rent levels across Scotland. To do that, we need high quality data.
On that basis, I seek to withdraw amendment 19.
Amendment 19, by agreement, withdrawn.
That ends stage 3 consideration of the bill.
As members will be aware, at this point in the proceedings, the Presiding Officer is required under standing orders to decide whether, in their view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter—that is, whether it modifies the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In the Presiding Officer’s view, no provision of the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority to be passed at stage 3.
Before I invite Shona Robison to open the debate, I call on her to signify Crown consent to the bill.
For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise Parliament that His Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the
Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place his prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the bill.