Aberdeenshire Council faced significant logistical challenges in organising suitable housing for the Syrian New Scots community. When families began to arrive in 2015, they were initially given private accommodation rented by the council for a two year period, in a Private Sector Leasing (PSL) scheme. The expectation was that they would transition into more typical Private Residential Tenancies (PRTs) afterwards. This scheme worked well until 2019, when issues began to arise, including the changing needs of tenants (mobility, children, etc), and landlords wishing to sell or move back into their properties. Some landlords also wanted to end their legal agreement with Aberdeenshire Council, in order to charge higher rent.
A temporary Housing Officer was appointed in 2019, to provide dedicated support to New Scots clients, and the post was made permanent in 2021. They have supported clients with housing and homelessness applications, communication with landlords, organising repairs, and other matters. They have also identified issues around overcrowding, affordability (even for those working), damp conditions, domestic abuse, and neighbours’ anti-social behaviour. Meanwhile, the housing market had shifted since 2015, with fewer available properties, higher rental costs, and significant impacts on families with three or more children due to the Benefit Cap. Broadly speaking, they found that the needs of New Scots were similar to those of social housing clients, requiring ongoing support. Anecdotal evidence also showed that the only New Scots tenants who could afford to move into employment were those in two-bed private housing, due to Local Housing Allowance rates.
During 2020, Covid-19 led to many PSL tenancies being extended for a year, but transitions into PRTs resumed in 2021. However, one year post-transition, only 10% of New Scots tenants remained in their original private sector home, and most landlords have expressed plans to sell their properties when their PSL agreement ends. Therefore, the housing strategy for future groups of New Scots will focus on social housing rather than private rented accommodation, to minimise disruption, allow for better support, and ensure more secure tenancies.
From HFINES 2018
At a consultation event in September 2017, several housing issues came up. For example, several participants commented that their housing was too small or unsuitable for other reasons, but they faced long wait times for new accommodation. Some were placed in housing far away from family members, and for others rural isolation was a problem. There were also some issues with noisy neighbours. Generally speaking, these were the same kinds of issues faced by other ethnic minorities, and by Scottish/British people in deprived areas.