Official Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ guidance for the private rented sector

Propertymark has worked with the Scottish Government, Scottish Association of Landlords and Council of Letting Agents to compile FAQs for landlords and letting agents in these exceptional circumstances. The aim is to provide reassurance and specific guidance on the main questions and concerns of the private rented sector. 

Where can we get advice on responding to the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak?

You should keep up to date with and have regard to the latest advice from Government, the NHS and the Chief Medical Officer. The position is changing on a daily basis and therefore it is important to check that advice regularly.

Health Protection Scotland has published guidance to support those working in non-healthcare settings give advice to their staff and users of their services about COVID-19. In particular section 1.2 has information on how to prevent spread of infection in the workplace.

How will our businesses get help financially?

The Scottish government recognises that many businesses, including private landlords and registered Letting Agents, will have very serious concerns over how they will continue to operate during this period of great uncertainty. You will be aware that both the UK and Scottish Governments have outlined plans for to provide businesses with support and we attach links to more detailed explanations of this help below:

A helpline providing businesses across Scotland with advice and guidance on COVID-19 was launched by the Scottish Government on 13 March. The helpline is open Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5.30pm and can be contacted on 0300 303 0660.

Announcements:

UK finance has published information for businesses in recognition that the cashflow of small and medium sized businesses may be disrupted by the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) to help you prepare and understand the options available.

What advice should we give to our tenants on the outbreak?

You should refer tenants to the advice as above.

How can I support my tenants if they are in financial difficulty or are worried about being able to pay their rent over the coming months?

It is important you encourage your tenants to contact you as soon as possible if they are in, or think they will be, in financial difficulty and unable to pay their rent.

Tenants affected by Coronavirus who are concerned about paying their rent can claim Universal Credit from the Department for Work and Pensions which includes support for housing costs, if eligible. The UK Government has introduced some temporary changes to make this easier. 

If a tenant is getting Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, but still can't afford their housing costs, they may be eligible for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Further information on DHPs and how to apply.

Further support is available for people on low incomes from the Scottish Welfare Fund if facing an emergency situation. 

What should we do if we are unable to deliver a particular service, such as a gas service and safety check, electrical safety inspection, or undertake an emergency repair, because a tenant is self-isolating or has the virus and refuses to give entry?

You should use your best efforts to deliver the service, undertake the safety check or make the repair. However, if you are unable to do so you should record this fact and that this is related to the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. You should consider retrying as soon as is possible and appropriate, having full regard for advice on self-isolation, hygiene and distancing and make sure that you reflect the level of such instances in your performance reporting.

You will want to maintain good communication with tenants affected so they are clear on what action you are taking and the timescales for this.

What should we do if we are unable to deliver a particular service, such as a gas service and safety check, electrical safety inspection, or undertake an emergency repair, because our contractor does not have people available due to sickness levels among its staff?

You should use your best efforts to source an alternative provider – your, or your contractor’s, business continuity plan may have provision for this. However, if you are unable to do so you should record this fact and that this is related to the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. You should consider retrying as soon as is possible and appropriate, having full regard for advice on self-isolation, hygiene and distancing and make sure that you reflect the level of such instances in your performance reporting.

You will want to maintain good communication with tenants affected so they are clear on what action you are taking and the timescales for this.

Should we pause all evictions during the outbreak?

The Scottish Government has called on all landlords not to evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to coronavirus. 

Eviction is a lengthy process and should always been seen as a last resort. The best solution is for landlords to be flexible with tenants facing financial hardship and signpost them to sources of financial support to help them pay their rent. In her statement the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government announced the Scottish Government’s intention to take action to protect tenants in the private rented sector from eviction. The exact details of these changes are currently being considered. 

What services should we prioritise if the impact of the outbreak is such that we do not have the capacity to deliver all services?

It will be important for each landlord and letting agent to make these decisions having regard to their own situation, the characteristics of their tenants and local circumstances. You should take a risk-based approach as the situation develops, and should keep the position under constant review. Clearly, actions and services which relate to the health and safety of your tenants will be of primary importance. You should consider how you will advise tenants and service users about any changes in services.

Advice for businesses

What advice should we give to our staff?

Immediate action should include circulating Government Guidance to staff. NHS Scotland have developed a communication toolkit containing a poster, video and social media posts for organisations to print and share. Download the NHS Scotland coronavirus (COVID-19) communication toolkit.

Consider how you might be able to support staff with their health and well-being, particularly in a period where a prolonged shutdown of the office may be necessary.

What should we do to make sure that the public areas of our offices and other premises are as safe as they can be?

Health Protection Scotland provides general advice on protecting people from the virus.

What practical steps can I take now to support our business continuity efforts?

First, make sure that you keep up to date with the advice from government and health authorities. It is important that you ensure your business continuity/resilience plan is up to date and accessible to all who may need it. You will want to ensure that all staff fully understand what is required of them. You may want to test your plans, simulating your continuity plan in advance of having to action it to ensure all staff fully understand what is required of them. You will want to engage with your contractors and suppliers to establish contingency arrangements with them. You may want to audit the ability of your staff to be able to adapt to agile or remote working. Establish the contingency arrangements for your contractors and suppliers. Finally, consider how you will communicate any changes to services to your tenants and service users, and how you will respond to any enquiries they may make.

These FAQs were originally published on the Scottish Government website.

COVID-19 How is it impacting your business?

We’re talking to Government on a daily basis to ensure they understand the impact that the Coronavirus pandemic is having on vulnerable tenants, compliance, landlords, repairs and other essential services.

To help us spread this message we would like you to answer three questions about how the pandemic is affecting your business? If every agent reading this responds, then Government will not be able to ignore us and will have to #KeepTheRentFlowing.

Complete the survey