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It was interesting to hear that the Scottish Government’s forthcoming Housing Bill will include plans to create a new housing tribunal, designed to act as a specialist decision maker for disputes in the private rented sector (PRS).

The plan is that, once the tribunal is up and running, it will take on board most of the civil private rented sector cases that currently are heard in the sheriff courts: a move that the Government claims will allow for more effective and efficient resolution of disputes between tenants and landlords in the private rented sector.

Background

The decision to introduce a PRS tribunal comes after recent consultation exercises conducted by the Government, which highlighted that resolving disputes through the courts can be particularly difficult for those in the private rented sector.

In May of this year, the Scottish Government published its PRS Strategy, which was informed by the results of the consultation and the work of the Private Rented Sector Strategy Group. The Strategy document includes ten key action points that the Government intends to take forward, one of which calls for moves to improve the way in which consumers can obtain redress in housing cases. The introduction of the new housing tribunal is a key step towards achieving this aim.

Making justice more accessible

“The majority of housing disputes are resolved between the parties involved without having to go to a court or other decision-making bodies. Landlords carry out much good preventative work, which can often stop disputes escalating to court action,” explained Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.

“However, where parties cannot reach an agreement to resolve their dispute, someone else needs to step in. By introducing a specialist private rented sector tribunal tenants and landlords will benefit from a more accessible and specialist decision maker for their disputes. This will enable increased access to effective justice” she added.

New tribunal welcomed

The news of the new tribunal has generally been welcomed by property organisations.

John Blackwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, said that it would be a useful way of addressing the many legal disputes that can arise between landlords and tenants. He added that housing officials are also taking forward plans to expand the use of mediation for all tenures of rented housing disputes – a move that will not require legislation to accomplish.

Homeless charity Shelter Scotland has also welcomed the announcement, describing it as an important step forward for Scotland’s private rented sector.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said that the move to take private rented sector disputes out of the sheriff court will make the process of resolution cheaper, faster and fairer for landlords and tenants alike.

Disappointment it will only apply to private rentals

The Scottish Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH Scotland) has been calling for a housing tribunal for a long time, arguing that it would bring about a significant improvement for both tenants and landlords who currently only have access to an adversarial, formal and clogged up court system. As a result, claims CIH Scotland, many are put off completely from exercising their legal rights.

It has therefore welcomed the planned introduction of the tribunal, describing it as an important milestone in its call for more effective dispute resolution across the whole housing sector. However, it has expressed disappointment that the new proposals will only apply to the private rented sector.

“We are naturally disappointed that the housing tribunal will not at this stage include social rented housing cases,” explained David Bookbinder, Head of Policy and Public Affairs with CIH Scotland.

“It is these cases that make up the majority of those being heard in the sheriff court and so would have the greatest impact in terms of providing better access to justice and reducing the burden on the court system. CIH Scotland will continue to argue for a housing tribunal system to operate across all housing tenures,” he concluded.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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