Housing

'Freeze rent not renters': Tenants march across UK amid cost of living crisis

Tenants unions are demanding a rent freeze amid spiralling prices and evictions as winter closes in.

Renters across the country are demanding a rent freeze. Image: Rose Morelli/Big Issue

Hundreds of renters across the country took to the streets on Saturday to demand a freeze on rents amid spiralling housing and energy costs in the UK.

Protests took place outside estate agents in Manchester and six London boroughs, with demonstrators calling on the government to end unfair rent profiteering during a cost of living crisis. 

“Landlords and estate agents like Foxtons are using the current economic crisis to artificially increase rents and boost profits,” said Rebecca Hesse-Clark from the London Renters Union (LRU). ”The rent rises being pushed through are unfair and unjustifiable.”

In Stratford, east London, protestors set up tents, mattresses and food stalls outside a Foxtons estate agents. “We can’t afford our rent at home, so we’re moving in here!” said Charlotte, an organiser and speaker for the demonstration.

Foxtons has reported a 25 per cent rise in revenue in this year’s third quarter, benefitting from an 18 per cent rise in letting revenue. The company has also previously come under fire for awarding exorbitant bonuses to senior management while benefiting from the government furlough scheme. Foxtons declined to comment.

Meanwhile, members of the LRU have reported an average rent increase of £3,378 (20.5 per cent) per year, with some facing rent rises upwards of 50 per cent. No-fault evictions have also hit a record high, as landlords opt to sell or re-let their properties at a higher price.

“Decades of government decisions have prioritised profits for landlords and investors above the safety and security of tenants,” said Elizabeth Williams from LRU. “Measures like an end to no-fault evictions and a rent freeze can bring us closer to a housing system that prioritises human need over the profits of a tiny few.”

The Conservative government has long promised a Renters’ Reform Bill, but years of political and economic chaos have meant there has yet to be significant progress making it a reality.

“I joined LRU four months ago because my mum has dementia and has faced problems as a renter,” said Cara, a marcher for LRU in Stratford. “I had to start representing her when her managing agents chastised her for complaining about a broken water heater.”

Cara was protesting against higher rents for her elderly mother. Image: Rose Morelli/Big issue

“I’ve had to constantly battle on her behalf against agents and landlords who want to raise her rent,” she said. “My mum is on housing benefit, so a rent raise could make her homeless. I had to explain to her landlord it’s not fair to move a dementia patient around loads as it can cause great confusion and distress.”

Long-term tenants in assured shorthold tenancy contracts often aren’t protected from ‘no-fault’ section 21 evictions: a clause that can allow landlords to evict tenants if they do not agree to rent increases. Despite promises from the government to abolish this clause, Section 21 evictions still remain legal, with the LRU reporting a 76 per cent increase taking place since last year.

“Thankfully we were able to negotiate with the landlord, but that’s only because of hard work and luck – we weren’t protected by the law,” Cara said. “Fighting these battles becomes an unpaid job – you’re already paying rent, but you then you have to put in all this extra work just to have security.”

“I joined LRU just over a year ago, because rent is the single biggest outgoing for everyone – this hits us all hard, and it’s really unfair,” said Johnathan, a marcher for LRU in Stratford. “Housing has gone from being a bare necessity to being a point of investment – people who can’t afford a house are being used to generate profit by big, career landlords.”

“The short-term solution to this crisis is a rent freeze,” Johnathan said. “Rents are going up at a massive rate that doesn’t match inflation – a freeze isn’t a matter of ‘want’, it’s a necessity. Renters will be made homeless on a huge scale if we don’t act now.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also expressed his support for a rent freeze, calling on government ministers to enact a two-year cap on private rents in the capital. 

“The fact that 40 per cent of Londoners think that they will struggle to make their rent payments in the next six months shows the scale of the housing crisis in London,” Khan said at an emergency rent summit in November. 

“London’s private renters are facing a triple whammy with rising rents, bills, and the cost of household essentials putting a major strain on their finances. Ministers must take this crisis seriously and act now.”

Supporters of a rent freeze point to Scotland as an example, where in October a cap on in-tenancy rent rises was banned until March 2023.

“By refusing to freeze rents like the Scottish government has done, the Tories are giving companies like Foxtons a green light to keep pushing up rents,” said Elizabeth from the LRU.

“All of us deserve a home where we can flourish, and have enough left over after rent to pay our bills and live a good life.”

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