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Right-to-buy legislation introduced

Legislation to end the right to buy has been introduced at the Scottish Parliament.

The Housing (Scotland) Bill is designed to retain social housing by preventing the sale of up to 15,500 homes over the next 10 years and to improve conditions in both social and private rented accommodation, the Scottish Government has said.

Due to previous legislation and suspensions in some areas, the right to buy is already unavailable to many people living in social housing including new tenants and those in new-build property.

Right-to-buy will come to an end three years after the Bill becomes law, which the Scottish Government hopes will happen next summer.

People wishing to own their home would be able to seek support from the Government through various shared equity schemes.

The Bill will also protect the private rented sector which has more than doubled in size, from 5% of all homes in 1999 to 11% in 2011.

This will be achieved with some legal changes which will see private-rented sector cases being moved from sheriff courts to a new First-Tier Tribunal, the introduction of regulation for letting agents and increasing the power of local authorities to report breaches of house condition standards.

There are around 3,300 households in Scotland with people who live permanently in mobile or park homes who are set to benefit from changes in mobile home site licensing, with local authorities being given a range of tools to ensure sites meet acceptable standards and to tackle unscrupulous site owners, said the Scottish Government.

The Bill would also introduce various measures designed to make the allocation and management of social housing more flexible.

Housing Minister Margaret Burgess said: "Everyone deserves to live in high-quality, sustainable homes that they can afford and that meets their needs. This Bill will contribute to that vision by safeguarding consumer interests, supporting improved quality and delivering better outcomes for communities.

"We are doing everything possible to maximise our investment in housing and deliver on our target of at least 30,000 new, affordable homes over the lifetime of this Parliament.

"By safeguarding social housing through removing right-to-buy, we will alleviate the pressure on social housing.

"With 400,000 people on waiting lists for council and housing association houses, we can no longer afford to see badly needed homes lost to the social sector.

"The introduction of a specialist private-rented sector tribunal will provide tenants and landlords with access to specialist justice to resolve disputes more effectively.

She added: "Housing is and will remain a priority for this Government and, through the Housing Bill, we will continue to support both the private and social sectors."

The Scottish Government says it is spending £1.35 billion on "affordable" homes over a four-year period to 2015-16, with a target to build 30,000 by March 2016.

Graeme Brown, director of homelessness and housing Shelter Scotland, said: "Shelter Scotland welcomes this Bill, in particular, the fact that it will mean the end of right to buy in Scotland.

"The focus on the private rented sector is good news for tenants and should make it fairer and safer for the growing number of families and individuals who now rely on the sector for a home.

"Ensuring letting agents maintain high professional standards, the introduction of a system to deal more effectively with landlord-tenant disputes and new powers for councils to drive up quality standards are very welcome moves.

"We also support effective measures to tackle antisocial behaviour amongst a small minority of tenants, as long as these measures do not undermine security of tenure for the majority of tenants."

Sarah Speirs, director of t he Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) Scotland, said: "Lack of finance available for many first-time buyers and tough market conditions has resulted in renting being the only housing option for thousands of individuals and families. And despite the growth of the sector, there continues to be a lack of consumer protection. Rics Scotland, therefore, welcomes the Housing (Scotland) Bill which calls for further regulation in the private rented sector (PRS).

"As an independent professional regulatory body, with a Royal Charter to act in the public interest, Rics fully recognise the need for better regulation across all housing tenures. However, the regulatory framework for letting agents proposed within the Bill falls short of full regulation and we would be interested to see the finer details in regard to the monitoring of letting agent registration and the code of conduct.

"Rics recommends a structured set of professional standards for letting agents to make the sector a more dependable option and to ensure value and protection to consumers.

"The independent Rics Scottish Housing Commission has been taking evidence from across the sector on measures contained within the Bill, with a recommendations report being launched on January 30 2014.

"Whilst this may not reflect Rics policy, it will provide cross-sector assessment of methods to develop the PRS, improve housing stock quality and funding for affordable homes."

Andy Young, policy and membership manager of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said: "While the SFHA broadly welcomes many aspects of the Bill, we are keen to examine the finer detail of some of the inclusions.

"We commend the Scottish Government for ending the Right to Buy in Scotland, though we are unclear as to why it has put in place a notice period of three years when 73% of responses to its consultation on the matter suggested a shorter period.

"We will put forward a case to reduce this period.

"Any flexibility around allocations and a better use of the social housing stock is to be welcomed, while the devil will be in the detail of many of the proposals aimed at tackling antisocial behaviour.

"Our view is that these measures will not succeed without a multi-agency approach.

"Whilst we recognise the need for the Scottish Housing Regulator to act quickly in the rare case of imminent landlord insolvency, the circumstances in which a landlord's assets can be transferred to another landlord without consulting tenants or requiring a valuation must be very carefully and tightly defined."


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