Housing

What impact would a rent freeze have? Just ask tenants in Scotland

The double whammy of a housing crisis and the soaring cost of living means renting can be soul destroying. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has taken action, and it's helping

A sign saying "renters deserve better" at a rent freeze protest in London

A banner at the rent freeze protest in London on December 3 2022. Image: Rose Morelli

Private renters in England have it tough right now. Not only are they grappling with the spiralling cost of living crisis, they’re doing so while dreading news of rent hikes or even eviction from their landlord.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Just over the border in Scotland, the government has brought in a temporary rent freeze and an eviction ban until March to give tenants a vital reprieve during the winter months. And, though campaigners are still demanding more permanent solutions, it is working.

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“The rent freeze gives tenants a small sense of stability during the uncertain times of the cost of living crisis,” said renter Aditi Jehangir. “Edinburgh is an extremely unaffordable city to live in and it is still very difficult for anyone who has to move or find new accommodation.

“For existing tenancies we can at least be safe in the knowledge that one part of our bills will stay the same.”

Jehangir is a member of tenant union Living Rent, which campaigned for the rent freeze and now wants it to remain in place until permanent rent controls are introduced.

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Living Rent secretary Meg Bishop told The Big Issue the measures had brought “huge relief” for tenants and gone a long way in supporting them as costs continue to soar.

She added: “Before the freeze we were seeing increases of up to 50, sometimes 70 per cent. In a cost of living crisis, and when rent already takes up to half of tenants income, any increase is incredibly damaging.

“However, we know that before the freeze rents were already too high, having increased over 60 per cent in some Scottish cities over the past 10 years. The rent freeze has been an important emergency response but for it to be truly effective in supporting tenants, we need it to remain in place until the Scottish government brings in rent controls to bring rents down.”

In England, calls for a rent freeze are continuing and campaigners took to the streets on Saturday to demand the Westminster government follows Nicola Sturgeon’s lead.

It comes as rents for England’s 4.4 million private tenants continue to rise. As of September, property site Right Move said rents outside of London increased by 11 per cent in a year across all property types, with the average asking price now at £1,162 a month. In London there’s been a 16 per cent rise – with average asking rents now at £2,343 a month.

London Renters Union, which held protests across the capital, has itself reported an average rent increase of £3,378 (20.5 per cent) a year, with some of its members facing rent rises upwards of 50 per cent. ‘No-fault’ evictions have also hit a record high, as landlords opt to re-let their properties at a higher price or sell up in the face of rising mortgage costs.

Most tenants aren’t protected from these no-fault section 21 evictions: a clause that can allow landlords to evict tenants without reason. The government has repeatedly pledged to abolish them, but section 21 evictions are on the rise, with the LRU reporting a 76 per cent increase in a year.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) told The Big Issue it had no plans to bring in a rent freeze, but would be delivering a “fairer deal” for private renters through its Renters Reform Bill. Details of the bill were published in June by Boris Johnson’s government, promising to replace section 21 notices and “empower tenants” to challenge “unfair rent hikes”.

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We understand the cost of living pressures that households are facing, however evidence suggests rent controls in the private rented sector do not work. They discourage investment and lead to declining property standards.

“Our white paper set out plans to deliver a fairer deal for private renters, including empowering them to challenge unjustified rent increases. We will bring forward legislation in this parliamentary session.”

Man holding sign saying "bring the rents down" at a London protest
A Protester in Stratford, east London, at the rent freeze protest on December 3 2022. Image: Rose Morelli

Campaigners calling for a rent freeze do have one big name in their corner. Though the Labour Party has so far said nothing regarding policy to help private renters, the Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan has backed a rent freeze, calling on ministers to bring in 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.”

The impact it could have on renters during the winter months is clear.

“The rent freeze has given me a sense of security and has lowered my stress,” another renter in Scotland said.

And Edinburgh tenant Ruaraidh Dempster, said: “Since the pandemic, I’m constantly worried about not being able to afford rent and being forced out of the city and community I love. The rent freeze has provided a strong, if temporary, fix to these worries.” 

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