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Scottish government accused of failing tenants by voting down rent freeze

A Scottish Labour bid to freeze soaring rents for two years was rejected despite warnings that tenants will be pushed into poverty.

Rent campaigners have accused the Scottish government of “failing tenants” after ministers voted down a bid to introduce a rent freeze across Scotland.

MSPs voted against an amendment to the Coronavirus Recovery Bill tabled by Scottish Labour on Tuesday which aimed to freeze rents for two years until rent controls are introduced in 2024.

The move comes as rents have continued to rise to record levels in recent months and have surged 8.5 per cent in Scotland in the last year, according to analysis from CityLets. That includes rises of 16 per cent in Glasgow and 14 per cent in Edinburgh.

Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba, who tabled the amendment, insisted the vote means renters risk falling into poverty.

“The SNP-Green government has badly let down Scotland’s renters by using its majority at Holyrood to block a rent freeze,” the North East Scotland MSP told The Big Issue.

“Tenants will now be at the mercy of landlords, who will be free to hike up rents during an ever worsening cost of living crisis.

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“Poverty, which is already rife among renters, is likely to get much worse.”

MSPs from the SNP, Scottish Greens and Conservatives all voted against the amendment, which was defeated by 94 votes to 21. 

Deputy prime minister John Swinney said he recognised that some MSPs wanted the government to go further to protect tenants in the bill.

He insisted ministers had maintained some protections in the legislation despite “some calls for those provisions that have supported tenants and prevented evictions to be removed”.

Swinney said: “The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Green MSP Patrick Harvie) emphasised that we will continue our detailed work with stakeholders to further raise awareness of tenants’ rights, and to explore how we can make better use of existing powers and increase access to rent adjudication, which is key to challenging unfair rent increases.”

Conservative deputy leader Murdo Fraser warned during the debate that more tenancy legislation could “see an even faster exodus of private landlords from the market” leading to further shortages of private rented homes and even higher rents.

Greens housing spokesperson Ariane Burgess also said the amendment was “unworkable” arguing that landlords would evict tenants to raise rents.

But Scottish tenant union Living Rent called for emergency protections to be introduced to protect tenants from rent hikes and evictions as the rising cost of living continues to squeeze household incomes.

Megan Bishop, Living Rent secretary, accused landlords of “pouring petrol on the cost of living crisis” and called on Holyrood to introduce emergency protections. 

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“By voting down a rent freeze and failing to come up with any other adequate emergency protections to prevent unaffordable rent increases, the Scottish government has failed tenants,” she said. “The Scottish government needs to introduce protections to prevent unaffordable rent increases or face the ‘tidal wave of evictions’ they warn against, when tenants are forced to leave their home due to rent increases.

“MSP’s need to put aside their political point scoring, take responsibility and regulate landlord’s greed. Though the government has promised rent controls in 2024, this is too far away when tenants need emergency protections to prevent unaffordable rent increases now.”

While rent controls that cap rent rises to below inflation do have the support of the Scottish government, there is less support from the Westminster government citing the impact on investment in the private rented sector and the standard of homes.

But there is plenty of support among the public for rent controls in England with 72 per cent of Brits backing the policy according to an Ipsos poll released this week.

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