Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Monkey business

Science tells us that if you give a million chimpanzees a million typewriters they will eventually reproduce the entire works of William Shakespeare. Until they do so, they will definitely thrash out more workable housing policies than the Scottish Government.

In one fell swoop the Scottish Government has closed off access to its Home Owners' Support Fund for homeowners facing repossession in Scotland. In real terms over 1 million Scottish households have just been excluded from applying for help under the Mortgage to Rent or Shared Equity schemes.

In a bizarre twist of irony, Cabinet Secretary Nicola Sturgeon claimed on telly last week that the Scottish Government was 'far ahead of the game compared to south of the border' when it came to preventing needless repossessions.

She pointed to the £35m to be invested over the next couple of years in the flagship ‘Home Owners Support Fund’ – money which underpins the national Mortgage to Rent and Shared Equity schemes. But her safety-net claims have been exposed as a Lilliputian fig leaf.

Previously, almost anyone in serious mortgage trouble was entitled to apply to the Mortgage to Rent scheme for help so long as their home was not above the average price of properties in their locality. Locality was a flexible, undefined concept. But from last month the Scottish Government has introduced ‘local’ maximum property prices which are so ridiculous they exclude 75% of all owner-occupiers in Scotland.

For example, if you're a family facing homelessness in a three bedroom flat in Glasgow, East Renfrewshire or East Dunbartonshire you are now excluded from Scottish Government help unless your home is worth less than £105,000. The current average property prices in those local authority areas are £135,000, £199,000 and £206,000 respectively. And these rules apply to help under both the Mortgage to Rent Scheme and the new Shared Equity Scheme.

Govan Law Centre has a client in Pollok facing repossession who lives in a modest three bedroom house worth £150,000. The Home Owners' Support Fund is her only hope - a couple of weeks ago she would have got help under the Mortgage to Rent Scheme, but now she is excluded.

Most of our clients in Greater Govan and Greater Pollok are excluded under these incompetent rules and Nicola Sturgeon might want to explain to her constituents how they are now going to avoid homelessness during the recession?

The Cabinet Secretary has broken a lifeline for Scottish homeowners. I’m calling on the First Minister to remove these restrictions urgently so that no Scottish household will become homeless because of this incompetent policy change.

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