Friday 10-02-2017 - 16:12
Ahead of the Scottish Student Housing Summit this month, our Vice President Communities Conor Marshall has written about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly sides of the Scottish housing sector.
I'm sure we're all familiar with the idiom 'if you've not got your health, what have you got?' - I often think the same about housing. It's such a vital, and often overlooked, issue that has worryingly real consequences on our students’ mental health, finances and quality of life.
Housing is a devolved issue in Scotland, meaning our sector takes a different approach than may be seen elsewhere in the UK. I'm hoping to walk you through the good, the bad, and the ugly of what happens in our private rented sector.
A notable distinction from other parts of the UK is that admin fees charged by letting agents (i.e. anything other than a rent or deposit) are illegal.Some landlords try to chance their luck, especially with first time renters and students, but incidents of this seem to be on the decline.
- Enhanced Enforcement Areas
Local Authorities have been given powers by the Scottish Parliament to crack down on rogue landlords, including requiring landlords in areas with known housing problems to be submitted to greater scrutiny. While the laws aren’t quite built to student needs, I'm confident that these laws can set a precedent for local authorities to offer students greater protection against landlords.
Last year, the Private Housing (Tenancies) Bill introduced the concept of rent controls, amongst other restrictions, to Scotland. While it wasn’t quite the win we wanted – the controls only cover rent increases during a contract, not between – this is still undoubtedly the first step towards ensuring that Scotland has an affordable housing sector that works for tenants, not just landlords.
As with the rest of the UK, rents have risen across Scotland in recent years. However, we see particular problems in Lothian, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, all areas with significant student populations, where rents have risen way above inflation on all but the smallest of properties.
- Deposit Schemes Going Unused
Scotland has had tenancy deposit schemes since May 2013 – meaning that deposits for rented properties are held by a neutral deposit scheme, rather than the landlord. While good in practise, one scheme alone has accrued over half a million pounds in uncollected deposits in its short existence.
Generally, there’s been a lot of encouraging developments in the Scottish housing sector in recent years, and we should be proud of that, but we can’t kid ourselves – we still have a long way to go in achieving a fairer, affordable, housing solution that meets the needs of us all. Challenges which are easier to tackle when we organise and work together. In fact, I’d say that any progress that’s ever been made on rent controls has only come as a result of coordinated action by grassroots activists, from Mary Barbour to the Living Rent Campaign – and that’s where you come in.
If you're a student or student officer in Scotland who wants to do something about the injustices student face, then a good place to start would be the Scottish Student Housing Summit hosted by Stirling Union and Edinburgh University Student Association, supported by Shelly Asquith, NUS UK Welfare VP, and myself.
It promises to be a great day, with a range of speakers and workshops that suit everyone from the uninitiated to the veteran. You can register here, I hope to see you there - feel free to come and chat, I'm always happy to help!