Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This section considers a range of questions that are put to the Centre on a regular basis. The answers are an outline but if you require more information please follow the links or get in touch with the Centre. You can also request information by contacting us.

1. About the Centre

When was the Centre established?

The Centre was established in 1987.

After attending a Shelter seminar interested lay persons came together to form Ayr Housing Aid Centre with assistance from Shelter and the local authority. We have grown from strength to strength since then and continue to develop and grow to meet local demand and needs.

 

Locality

The Centre operates within South Ayrshire.

 

Centre funding

The Centre successfully tendered for a Contract with South Ayrshire Council. The Contract commenced on 1st July 2012 and has been continued until 30th June 2017.

We also fundraise and raise income by providing training courses on housing and homeless law.

More information on our funding can be found in our Reports Section.

 

Does the Centre have Volunteers?

Over the years we have had volunteers coming into the Centre to donate time. Most of these have been volunteer Admin Assistants and Office Juniors. If you are interested in this please contact Karen Taylor.

The Management Committee are volunteers.

 

Constitutional Status of the Centre

The Centre is currently an Unincorporated Charitable Organisation which is registered with the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator.  The Centre has a Management Committee who oversees the strategic, financial and policy direction of the Centre.

The Centre is working towards conversion to a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) and hope to convert in 2016.

 

2. Homelessness

Homelessness and its prevention is a major priority for the Centre. We have a large caseload which is across all tenures.  This section considers the main definitions from Homeless legislation.  If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness you should seek assistance from your local Housing Authority, (South Ayrshire Council).

If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness within South Ayrshire or you intend to reside in South Ayrshire you can access advice, information and advocacy from the Centre.

Who is homeless/threatened with homelessness?

A person/household can be homeless if they have no place to live or have accommodation which is not reasonable to occupy, a person can also be homeless in emergency situations. The statutory definition for homeless is found in section 24 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, as amended. A person is threatened with homelessness if they are within 2 months of losing their accommodation. More information on homelessness can be found here.

What should I do if I am going to be homeless?

If you are homeless or are threatened with homelessness within 2 months you should contact your Local Housing Authority.

If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness in South Ayrshire you should contact Housing Options

What happens next?

If you have made an application the Council has a duty to make enquires. If you are threatened with homelessness the first issue is to try and prevent you from losing your accommodation.

If this is not possible or you are already homeless the Council has a duty to provide you with temporary accommodation pending consideration of your application. They will consider whether you are intentionally homeless and they may consider whether you have a local connection. It should be noted that some Authorities do not consider the question of local connection as this is a discretion but currently South Ayrshire Council does.

 

What is intentionally homeless?

The Council will consider whether an applicant has made themselves intentionally homeless or not. Intentionally homeless is where an applicant or a member of the household has done or failed to do something which has caused them to lose accommodation which would have been reasonable to occupy. An example of this could be someone who deliberately did not pay rent and then were evicted for rent arrears. If you feel you are not intentionally homeless you should contact us for advice.

If an intentionally homeless decision is made, then the duty of the Council to the applicant is restricted to providing temporary accommodation for a limited period of time for the applicant to secure alternative accommodation. The Council must also provide advice and assistance during this time.

Currently there is legislation on the statute books to change consideration of intentionally homeless from a duty to a power. In addition a person found to be intentionally homeless will be entitled to Short Scottish Secure Tenancy in most cases. Both of these provisions are not in force yet.

 

Can I appeal a homeless decision?

Yes, the process is called a Review and this is a statutory right. Normally a request for a review should be made within 21 days of the decision.

It is important that you seek advice on this as soon as possible after you receive the decision. South Ayrshire Council have put our contact details at the bottom of their decision letters. If you are from South Ayrshire or intend to reside in South Ayrshire contact the Centre.

If you are not from South Ayrshire you should contact your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB), Housing Advice Centre or Shelter Scotland (see links page).

 

3. Private Rented Tenants

The Centre has a large private rented sector caseload. Cases are opened on a range of matters such as deposits, rent arrears, repairs, illegal evictions and landlord/tenant disputes.

Currently the main tenancies in the Private Sector are Assured and Short Assured. If your tenancy started prior to 1989 it will probably be a Regulated Tenancy.

Currently there is a Bill progressing through the Scottish Parliament proposing to introduce a new type of tenancy within the Private Rented Sector.  This section will be reviewed if the new tenancy is introduced.

Tenancy Deposit Scheme

When a deposit is paid to a private landlord or letting agency they are now required to register it with a Tenancy Deposit Scheme. The scheme keeps the deposit in a separate bank account until the end of the tenancy.

This only applies to private landlords who are required to register as a landlord with their local authority and does not apply to Registered Social Landlords or Local Authorities.

At the end of a tenancy, the landlord lets the Scheme know if any of the money needs to be retained and the rest should be returned to the tenant. If the tenant thinks that their landlord has unfairly making claims on all or some of the deposit they have can complain to the Scheme who will make a decision based on evidence provided to them from each party.

The first 3 schemes went live on 2 July 2012.

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safedepositsscotland

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Tenancy deposits must be registered with a tenancy deposit scheme within 30 working days of the tenancy starting.

Landlords must give the scheme provider:

  • their contact details
  • their tenant’s contact details
  • details of the tenancy and property to which the deposit relates

 

As well as paying the deposit into an approved scheme, landlords must give tenants specific information about the deposit within 30 working days of the deposit being put into a scheme.

Landlords must provide the following information:

  • the amount of the deposit and the date it was received by the landlord
  • the date the deposit was paid into the tenancy deposit scheme
  • the address of the property to which the deposit relates
  • a statement that the landlord is registered with the local authority or has applied to be registered
  • the name and contact details of the tenancy deposit scheme provider to which the deposit was paid, and
  • the circumstances in which all, or part of the deposit can be kept at the end of the tenancy, with reference to the tenancy agreement.

Either the landlord or the tenant can apply for the deposit to be returned from the tenancy deposit scheme.

If landlords don’t use a Tenancy Deposit Scheme then a tenant can apply to the Sheriff Court under the Tenancy Deposit Scheme Regulations. This can be done either during the tenancy or up to 3 months after the tenancy has ended.

The Court can order the Landlord to:-

  • pay the tenant up to 3 times the amount of the deposit,
  • pay the deposit into a Scheme and
  • comply with the other requirements of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme Regulations.

 

Does my Landlord need to provide a lease?

Yes, a Landlord and/or Agent must provide a formal tenancy agreement (Lease) which sets out the terms of the tenancy and they cannot charge you for providing it.

 

Should I get a rent book from my private landlord?

If your rent is payable weekly your landlord should provide a rent book. You should always keep a note of rent paid by you, if you pay in cash ask for a receipt. You can ask your Landlord for a copy of your rent account.

 

How is my rent set?

You will have negotiated your rent at the start of your tenancy, rents in Assured and Short Assured Tenancies are known as market rents.

 

How can my rent be increased?

Many agreements will set the rent for the duration of the tenancy. The initial period for Short Assured tenancies must be at least 6 monthsand then it can renew itself by silent renewal (tacit relocation) or can be month to month or bimonthly. The Landlord may include a rent increase clause within the lease which has a formula e.g. rent will increase annually by the rate of inflation plus 1%.

In the absence of a rent increase formula in the agreement the rent cannot be increased unless the landlord serves a formal notice on the tenant which proposes a new rent, this is called an AT2 notice. If the tenant objects to the increase they must complete an AT 4 notice prior to the date the new rent is due to take effect.

 

Who can help me if I am not happy with the proposed rent increase?

The Private Rented Housing Panel (PRHP) has jurisdiction to look at the amount of rent paid under a tenancy in certain circumstances. If you have a Regulated Tenancy (before 1989) under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 you can apply to the Rent Officer to have a fair rent fixed. The Rent Service Scotland website gives their contact details and access to the Fair Rent Register.

Ordinarily, ‘fair rents’ only apply to tenancies established before 1989. If either you or your landlord is dissatisfied with the rent fixed by the Rent Officer, then either of you or your landlord can apply to the PRHP to have the ‘fair rent‘ determined by a Private Rented Housing Committee.

The PRHP can also hear appeals brought under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988. If you have a Statutory Assured Tenancy and the Landlord serves a notice proposing to increase the rent, (form AT2) you can refer the Notice to the PRHP and ask a Committee to fix an Open Market Rent. The PRHP also deals with appeals by landlords and tenants where the other party has proposed a review of the terms of the tenancy.

A Short Assured Tenant can ask the Committee to decide what the rent should be under s34 of the 1988 Act.

In cases under the 1988 Acts the prescribed forms must be used as the relevant legislation requires this. These forms can be downloaded from the PRHP website.
The rent can be increased by mutual agreement.

 

Does my Landlord have a repairs obligation?

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 created a Repairing Standard for the Private Rented Sector. If a landlord is in breach of the Standard a tenant can refer the matter to the Private Rented Housing Panel (PRHP) have powers to deal with breaches. It is important to note that tenants have an obligation to notify to their landlord of any repair issues and this should be done by writing to the Landlord by Recorded Delivery. More information on the standard and accessing the PRHP can be found here.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 amended the Repairing Standard legislation to allow a Third Party (specifically the local authority) to make applications in the same manner as the tenant. The local authority must take the same notification action as a tenant prior to making the application.

 

A phased approach is being taken to the implementation of third party applications.

South Ayrshire is in  Phase 3 which will commence from 1 June 2016

 

Recent changes

PROVISION OF CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS IN PRIVATE RENTED HOUSING

The Scottish Government has issued statutory guidance for the provision of carbon monoxide alarms in the private rented sector. The guidance came into effect from 1st December 2015. Regard must be had to this guidance when determining whether a house meets the repairing standard if carbon monoxide (CO) is present in a concentration that is hazardous to health.

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT STATUTORY GUIDANCE ON ELECTRICAL INSTALLATIONS AND APPLIANCES IN PRIVATE RENTED PROPERTY

Key Points

  • A new duty to carry out electrical safety inspections comes into force on 1 December 2015.
  • There are two parts to the electrical safety inspection, (1) an inspection of installations, fixtures and fittings and (2) a record of testing of appliances provided by the landlord.
  • The tenant must be given a copy of the inspection when it is done. A new tenant must be given a copy of the most recent inspection before the tenancy begins.
  • Landlords should ensure that inspections are carried out by a competent person – there is guidance on what standard is expected here – but a landlord can carry out appliance testing if they have undertaken appropriate training.
  • The minimum standard is that an electrical safety inspection is carried out every five years – but testing can be carried out more frequently.
  • The new duty applies to new tenancies that begin on or after 1 December 2015. It applies to existing tenancies from 1 December 2016. So landlords will have up to one year to organise inspections of the homes they let.
  • Regular inspection of installations, fixtures and appliances is best practice and some landlords will have arranged inspections before the law changes. The current standard format for inspections was introduced on 1 January 2012, and inspections completed from that date can comply with the repairing standard.

What is a Short Assured Tenancy (SAT)?

Many tenancies in the private sector will be Short Assured. This is a type of Assured but there are less rights, in particular to security of tenure. The minimum period for a SAT is 6 months but often continue on a month to month or bimonthly basis thereafter.

To establish a Short Assured Tenancy the landlord must serve on the tenant an AT 5 notice which tells the potential tenant that the tenancy will be Short Assured. If this is not served properly the tenancy will probably be an assured tenancy. The landlord may also have a clause within the lease which states the tenant has received this notice if they sign so you should check this prior to signing your tenancy.

To end a Short Assured Tenancy at its ish (end date) a landlord must serve a s33 notice which has a duration of 2 months in addition to this a Notice to Quit is required, these notices can be served together but must be served correctly.

 

Can a landlord evict me without notice?

No, a number of notices and procedures must be followed.  A Court Order is required prior to you being physically ejected by Sheriff Officers.

In most cases a Notice to Quit must be served (in Short Assured Tenancies this is in addition to the minimum 2 month notice (s33))  If seeking to end the tenancy at an ish (end) date the serving of the notices is all that is required.

If the Landlord is seeking to recover possession of the property during the period of the tenancy is some cases and/or under a ground for repossession an AT6 notice should be served.  In all cases you should seek advice from us or your local advice Centre.
A landlord who seeks to evict a tenant without following the correct procedure could be committing a criminal offence. Under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 it is unlawful to harass a tenant and to illegally evict a tenant and if this happens to you, you can contact us and contact the Police. It is also a Civil wrong to do this and you may be able to seek damages by raising an action in Court against the Landlord. You should contact us or a Solicitor for more info on this. You can also report this to the Landlord Registration Scheme run by the Council.

If you have had a Decree granted against you and you did not represent yourself or did not have a Solicitor defending the action you may apply for a Minute of Recall. Please contact us or a Solicitor direct if you require assistance to apply for this.

 

What is the Landlord Registration Scheme?

All Private Landlords must be registered with the Council and all their properties must also be registered. It is an offence to let property if you are not registered. To be registered a landlord must be a fit and proper person. See SAC Registration for more info.

 

 4. Council and Housing Association Tenants (Public & Registered Social Landlords)

 There are substantial changes coming to the social rented sector, this page will be updated in due course as the changes come into force.

What type of tenancies are there in the public sector?

The main tenancies are Scottish Secure Tenancies (SST) and Short Scottish Secure Tenancies (SSST). If you are in temporary homeless accommodation you may have a Tenancy at Common Law or a Licence To Occupy.

 

How is my rent set?

The rent is normally set on an annual basis and tenants are given 4 weeks notice of an increase, this usually happens around March/April each year.

 

What happens if I have rent arrears?

You should seek to deal with rent arrears as quickly as possible. You could speak to your Landlord and agree to a plan to repay your arrears and your ongoing rent. You may be entitled to help with your rent if you are on a low income or benefits. – see section on Housing Benefit.

 

What happens if the tenant dies?

If there is a Qualified Person in the house they can succeed to a SST and become the tenant. There are 3 levels in which a person can qualify to succeed these are:-

Level 1 :- Spouse/Civil Partner, Co-habitee if the home has been their only or principle home over the past 6 months.

Level 2 :- A relative of the deceased where this is their only or principle home.

Level 3 :- A carer who has given up their own only or principle home.

There can be 2 rounds of succession; one can succeed from a successor.

 

Can they evict me without notice?

No, if a public sector landlord wishes to evict from a Scottish Secure Tenancy they must firstly serve a Notice Of Intention To Raise Proceedings and thereafter seek an order from the Court. If Decree is granted at Court then the Council can arrange a date for ejection. If you have had a Decree granted against you and you did not represent yourself or did not have a Solicitor defending the action you may apply for a Minute of Recall. Please contact us , your local Advice Centre or a Solicitor direct if you require assistance to apply for this.

Prior to seeking recovery of the property your Landlord must comply with pre-action requirements which are designed to seek solutions short of eviction and to try and prevent homelessness.

 

What is a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy (SSST)?

This type of tenancy can only be created in certain circumstances. It does not enjoy the full rights of a Scottish Secure Tenancy such as Right to Buy and Succession. It is also easier for a landlord to end this type of tenancy.

If your Landlord is saying you will have a SSST, they must give you a Notice stating that your tenancy will be a SSST or your tenancy is being reduced to a SSST (this can be done if an Anti-Social Behaviour Order is taken out against you or a member of your household). This Notice must also state the reason that the tenancy offered is a SSST.

 

5. Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction

It is important to note that there are considerable changes being introduced as part of Welfare Reform. Ultimately Housing Benefit will be phased out as applicants apply for or migrate over to Universal Credit which is for working age benefit claimants.  The roll out for South Ayrshire commenced in November 2015. This benefit will replace many working age benefits in the current system. Please contact DWP for more info.

Housing Benefit/Council Tax benefit are means tested benefits to help people on low income to pay their rent/Council tax.

If you pay both rent and Council Tax, you can apply for both Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit at the same time with one claim form.

 

If you currently receive Council Tax Benefit there was no requirement to make a claim for the new Council Tax Reduction scheme but if you have not made a claim then you will need to complete a new form.  See the South Ayrshire Council website for more info.

Will I be entitled to Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Reduction

You can use the online calculator to see if you may be entitled to Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Benefit. You can also use this calculator to find out how a change in your circumstances might affect your current Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit.

How to claim

If you wish to make a claim direct to South Ayrshire Council you can download a claim form and additional information to help you to complete the claim form. If you have any difficulty downloading the claim form or the additional information, please contact your local Housing office, details below.

If you are currently making a claim for Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit you may have already completed a claim form for Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Benefit. The Job Centre Plus or Pensions, Disability and Carers Service will tell you if they are going to send that claim form to the Council for you. If they are going to send your claim form to us you should not need to complete one of the Council’s claim forms, although there is no hard in completing both. If you are completing a Council form you should hand it into your Housing Office and get a receipt.

 

 

Size Criteria (Bedroom Tax)

In April 2013 the Government introduced size criteria rules into Housing Benefit for working age people only who renting from Councils, Registered Housing Associations or other Registered Social Landlords, (RSL).

The rules restricted the size of accommodation you can receive Housing Benefit for based on the number of people in your household.

The rules allow one bedroom for:

  • every adult couple (married or unmarried)
  • any other adult aged 16 or over
  • any two children of the same sex aged under 16
  • any two children aged under 10
  • any other child, (other than a foster child or child whose main home is elsewhere)
  • a carer (or team of carers) who do not live with you but provide you or your partner with overnight care
  • severely disables children
  • serving members of the armed forces who intend to return home
  • Foster Carers

 

Are you affected?

If it was deemed that you had an extra room then your Housing Benefit would have been reduced by about £10/wk per room.

The amount allowed for rent and any service charges were reduced by:

  • 14% for under-occupancy by 1 bedroom
  • 25% for under-occupancy by 2 bedrooms or more

Many tenants managed to get a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) of around £7/wk to reduce the amount the had to pay to their rent to prevent rent arrears accruing.   

 

If you want to know more about this please contact Benefit Services on 0300 123 0900 or Benefit.services@south-ayrshire.gov.uk

 

Can I appeal a size criteria deduction?

There are a range of circumstances in which a challenge to the size criteria can be made; these have been outlined in a Tool Kit established by Govan Law Centre.  These will require to progress through the appropriate Judicial/Tribunals for definitive rulings on particular circumstances.  The Centre has had some success in Bedroom Tax Tribunals for our  Service Users but it depends on the individual circumstances. Contact us if you think you have a case you wish to challenge.

 

 

The impact of the size criteria in the Social Rented Sector has been mitigated in Scotland by Local Authorities and the Scottish Government.  There is no guarantee that they actions will continue indefinitely and are reviewed regularly.

 

Can I get Housing Benefit for an earlier period?

If you are over 60 you can request a backdate for 3 months prior to the date of claim. There is no need to show good cause.  The only condition is the claimant would have been entitled to Housing/Council Tax Reduction.

If you are under 60 you can request a backdate for 6 months but there are plans for this to reduce to 3 months at a later date. In these cases a claimant must show continuous good cause for failing to make a claim in the relevant period due to illhealth, personal issues, etc.  Once Universal Credit is rolled out the Housing Element will only be able to be backdated for 4 weeks so it will be all the more important to make a claim asap.

 

What happens if I have been overpaid Housing Benefit?

Normally the Council will seek to recover overpayments from ongoing benefit although they have discretion not to recover. If an overpayment is caused by an official error and you could not have been aware that there was an overpayment then this will normally not be recoverable. The main causes of overpayments are failure to inform the Council of changes in circumstances. It is important changes are notified to the Council, failure to do so could lead to issues regarding fraud. We will require you to sign a mandate for us to enquire with Housing Benefit on your behalf. You may also be entitled to underlying entitlement throughout an overpayment period which we can assist with and this may reduce what you owe.

If you have an overpayment you wish us to look at to see if it can be reduced or treated as official error then please contact us with the details and we will see if we can help.

 

Universal Credit (Housing Element)

As people switch to Universal Credit there Housing Benefit will stop and they will claim a housing element within their Universal Credit (UC started to roll out in South Ayrshire in November 2015).  The Housing Element will be paid as part of the overall UC claim and this will be direct to the tenant on a monthly basis.  There is provision for the Housing Element to be paid direct to the landlord but this only relates to tenants who are vulnerable or in arrears.

The size criteria will continue to apply in the UC Housing Element.  The maximum period for backdate for UC is 1 month and will only be paid in specific circumstances and if the person could not have reasonably claimed earlier.

Private Sector tenants UC Housing Element will be restricted to the Local Housing Allowance applicable to the claimant’s household.  Single under 35 will still be entitled to the shared accommodation rate.

From April 2017 most 18 -21 year olds who are out of work will not be entitled to the housing costs element.

In Scotland different rules may develop for the Housing Costs Element as certain welfare powers are transferred to the Scottish Parliament

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 introduces important new rights to access information held by public authorities and requires more proactive publication of information.

Please refer to the Scottish Government website to find out more about the information published by the Scottish Government.