Council to end Edinburgh evictions ban after only two months

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Edinburgh City Council is to end its ban on evictions and debt collection after only two months – despite being presented with 2,550 homeless applications during the coronavirus pandemic.

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A moratorium was agreed in June following a successful motion by Green Party councillor Chas Booth, but council bosses are now set to begin eviction and formal debt collection proceedings.

No new notices of proceedings for court action due to rent arrears, requests for decrees in court or enforcement of decrees were actioned by the council between June 24 and the Scottish Government moving Edinburgh to level 0 lockdown restrictions on July 19.

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The city council will now be raising actions again at Edinburgh Sheriff CourtThe city council will now be raising actions again at Edinburgh Sheriff Court
The city council will now be raising actions again at Edinburgh Sheriff Court

A report from housing officers, set to go before members on Thursday, asks councillors to row back on the eviction ban now that Edinburgh is in tier 0 of the coronavirus restrictions.

The report states that rent arrears have increased significantly over the pandemic, with some more than £10,000 in arrears.

It reads: “During 2020/21 tenant rent arrears increased due to a significant number of tenants facing changes in their household financial circumstances and the suspension of formal debt recovery measures to ensure tenants were not at increased risk of losing their home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Councillor Chas Booth fought to halt evictionsCouncillor Chas Booth fought to halt evictions
Councillor Chas Booth fought to halt evictions

“Rent collected as a percentage of total rent due was 96.8 per cent compared to 99.6 per cent for 2019/20.

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“The average level of debt for tenants in arrears at the end of March 2021 was £1,184.

“The level of individual debt however varies significantly with over 500 tenants with a history of non-payment and debt levels of over £4,000 and 20 of these having debt of over £10,000.

“Formal debt recovery processes, that can often trigger engagement, remain an important measure in getting tenants to engage.

“Every effort is then made to stabilise the arrears and to seek reasonable repayments to pay back the outstanding rent due.

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“For some households the repayment periods will be lengthy due to the balances outstanding and the level of repayments that are reasonable given the households financial circumstances.”

The council’s housing service is funded from tenants’ rents, fees and service changes, paying for improvements to tenants’ homes and the council’s house building programme.

The report says ‘there are potential risks to income collection if formal debt recovery processes were not to be not utilised as one of the essential measures used to help tenants meet their rent payment responsibilities’.

The council has also struggled to support tenants in the private sector rental market.

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Between 1 April 2020 and 30 June 2021 there were 2,550 homeless presentations, with 286 (11%) of households presenting to the council after losing their tenancy in the private rented sector.

Green Party councillor Susan Rae said: “The pandemic is not yet over: many people are still heavily impacted by Covid restrictions, struggling to recover economically, perhaps get by with reduced income and at a time when the impact of Brexit is beginning to bite, driving prices up.

“Add to that the immensely cruel Tory decision to remove the vital £20 universal credit uplift, and you can see why many tenants are falling into rent arrears through no fault of their own.

“The council should not be threatening tenants with eviction in these circumstances, but instead supporting tenants to get back on track and helping them keep their homes.”

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