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Britain’s renting crisis – what it means, why we got here, and what you can do about it

Explore strategies to challenge rent increases and learn how The Rental Exchange by Big Issue Invest and Experian can empower tenants. Discover actionable insights in our latest feature. #BigIssueTalksMoney

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Illustration: Ben the Illustrator

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In a cost of living crisis, it’s worrying to be hit with any increase in regular outgoings. Usually, we can respond by taking our custom elsewhere. But when we face a rent increase, it’s not so easy to up and leave. So while it’s natural to feel stuck and left with little choice, be assured that if that happens, there are measures we can take to contest the change.

The Underlying Issues
While mortgage rate increases play a part in today’s rental crisis, the root issue is arguably unchecked supply and demand. In London, for example, research from the London School of Economics found a 41% reduction in the number of homes available for private rent since the pandemic, causing more competition for fewer properties, which drives up the market value.

Impact of Rent Increases
That means significant rent increases are becoming all too common. In the year up to January 2024, private rents increased by 6.1% in England, 6.8% in Scotland, and 7% in Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics. The repercussions have become a political issue. As more and more of us face rent hikes, it’s hitting headlines. And as more people turn to councils for help with homelessness, and are then put in expensive temporary accommodation, it’s helped to bring many councils close to bankruptcy.

Governmental Response
There has been a governmental response, including rent caps for social housing. However, overall it’s been less effective than needed. In Scotland, evictions were blocked and rent increases have been capped at 3% since September 2022, but these measures came to an end on 31 March 2024. In England, the government promised to give tenants more security through the Renters Reform Bill five years ago, but this is still going through parliament.

Hope for Renters
Yet there are clear signs of hope in the long-term. Renters will be in a stronger position once the Renters Reform Bill does go through, and both Scotland and Wales are considering rent controls.

Actions to Take
But there are still things that you can do to challenge an unfair or unaffordable rent hike – renters have more power than landlords perhaps realise.

Talk to Your Landlord

It’s always a good idea to discuss the issue with the landlord to try to find a solution that works for you – if you don’t ask, you don’t get! Landlords won’t want to lose a good tenant, so there may be room for negotiation once they hear your position, especially if you can gather evidence on why you think the rent increase is unreasonable or unworkable. If you come to an agreement, make sure to confirm it in writing.

Check Your Increase is Valid

If you are on a rolling contract with no fixed end date (known as a periodic tenancy) a landlord can only increase your rent once a year without your consent. If they try to increase it again within a year, it’s unlikely to be valid. You might be on a short-assured tenancy or a fixed-term contract, like a six- or 12-month contract. In this case, your landlord needs your agreement to increase your rent during this period, unless there’s a clause in your contract that allows it, so check your contract. Or you might have received a Section 13 notice. This gives notice of an increase but is only valid if you have a fixed-term, periodic, or an assured tenancy (a type of contract that was in place between 1989 and 1997). With rolling contracts, it can’t be issued if there is a rent review clause, and it’s only valid after the first 12 months of your tenancy. If these conditions don’t apply, you can challenge the notice.

Refer it to a Tribunal

If talking to your landlord doesn’t help, you can take it to a tribunal for free – but you’ll need to apply before the rent increase begins. The tribunal is made up of professionals in the industry, for example, solicitors and surveyors. They’ll look at your evidence, at the costs of renting in a similar property in your area, and how much the landlord could get if they were to rent it to someone new. In Scotland, you can challenge it through Rent Service Scotland. Here, you need to apply within 21 days of getting the rent increase notice. The tribunal or Rent Service Scotland will decide if the rent increase is fair, and if not, set the new rental cost (be aware that on occasion, this may be higher than what the landlord was originally asking). The landlord won’t be able to increase the rent again for another 12 months.

Get Support from a Union

A union that covers tenants, like Acorn, London Renters Union or Greater Manchester Tenants Union, can challenge rent increases on your behalf, as well as help with other tenancy issues, like evictions and stolen deposits. You’ll need to join the union first, which involves a small membership fee. In addition to helping with individual issues, the unions – as well as other campaign groups like the Renters Reform Coalition and PricedOut – push for policy changes to give more power to renters. Big Issue Invest and Experian set up The Rental Exchange in 2010 to ensure that rent payments are included in credit scores. Search ‘Big Issue’, ‘Rental Exchange’ and ‘Experian’ to find out more.

Jonny Butcher of Acorn, a community union for people fighting through the cost of living crisis, says: “We’ve challenged rent increases by picketing letting agents, or negotiating with landlords as a group rather than individually. In Bristol a few months ago, we campaigned about a 66% rent increase for a member, and were able to stop that rise.” Butcher thinks there’s cause for hope in this election year. “Political parties are starting to realise it’s in their interest to start doing something about the housing crisis now,” he says. “Something has to change or a great number of people are going to be pretty screwed.”

With winds changing in favour of tenants, there’s no need to feel like a rent increase is a ruling that’s being thrust upon you. Instead, consider it the beginning of negotiations.

For More Information
For more information on The Rental Exchange visit The Rental Exchange

Helpful Links

Citizens Advice
Shelter
Generation Rent
Living Rent (Scotland)
London Renters Union
Acorn Union
Greater Manchester Tenants Union
StepChange Debt Charity
Renters Reform Coalition

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