Calls for Swinney to prioritise Housing Bill amid 'astronomical' rent increases

Campaigners fear rental sector reforms are under threat following the collapse of the Bute House Agreement.

Campaigners and housing associations are urging John Swinney to make tackling the crisis in Scotland’s housing sector one of his first priorities as First Minister.

Five council areas across the country have declared housing emergencies and many are concerned the situation will worsen following the collapse of the Bute House Agreement.

Tenants are particularly worried they’ll face further rent increases if there isn’t additional investment to build more homes when there’s currently not enough supply to meet demand.

Rent controls and improving tenants’ rights were part of the agreed policy programme between the SNP and the Greens when the Bute House Agreement was signed in 2021.

The Housing Bill, published in March 2024, also covers rent controls and homelessness prevention.

But campaigners fear the plans will be kicked down the road or scrapped altogether following the end of the rent freeze in April and the shake-up at Holyrood that sees Swinney leading a minority government.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “One of the critical areas that Greens will be concerned about in the weeks and months ahead, is whether the Scottish Government now waters down elements of the Housing Bill.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie

“I’m obviously worried given the needless decision to end the progressive pro-independence majority government that there could be a number of areas watered down, delayed or ditched altogether. 

“It is very clear far too many people are paying way over the odds in terms of the private rented sector. We want to strengthen those rents and have a long-term system of rent controls in Scotland.

“I know that the vested interests opposing that will be lobbying like mad – trying to get the government to water down that legislation.

“It’s really important John Swinney and his colleagues make it very clear that there won’t be a change in direction on measures so urgently needed.”

‘Collective action will make room for better change’

Nikolas Skettos said his landlord attempted to hike his rent by 25%.

Nikolas Skettos faced an increase of 25% on his monthly rent before he sought help from a tenants’ union.

He and his parents received notice that his rent would soar from £726 per month – which they pay six months in advance – to £910 after the rent freeze was scrapped.

But Nikolas managed to bring the increase down to 12% after going through the government’s adjudication process with the support of Living Rent.

He said: “It’s still a big increase but it will be a big weight off our shoulders. It would have meant less disposable income for our household.

“I hope they can change it so we’re paying month-to-month rather than six months in advance.”

Nikolas urges people who rent flats to join a tenants’ union.

“I would encourage everyone to learn what their rights are – a lot of people don’t and landlords are banking on that,” he told STV News.

“We need to keep the rent reasonable. Collective action can make room for better change.

“I understand landlords want to put rent up every year due to inflation, but putting it up 50, 60% is unaffordable. My heart goes out to all these people affected.”

‘Tenants are at the mercy of a completely unregulated sector’

Living Rent campaigns chair Ruth Gilbert

Living Rent has urged Swinney to “put his month where his mouth is” to protect tenants’ rights in Scotland.

The tenants’ union is calling for a commitment to rent controls before the end of the parliamentary term.

Campaigns chair Ruth Gilbert said: “Private sector tenants are at the mercy of a completely unregulated sector with rent spiralling out of control and poverty going up.

“We need to see rent controls brought in as soon as possible.”

She said figures estimate rent has gone up in Glasgow and Edinburgh by between 80 and 90% over the last decade – with tenants on the lowest income spending up to 50% of their pay packet on rent.

“We’ve got waves of members coming with astronomical rent increases,” she said.

“We need to see something within the Bill to bring rents down. Local authorities are at their limit in terms of resources to deal with this.

“We’ve seen landlords chancing it. Nationally, landlords need to be compelled to provide information on the rents that they are charging.”

The Scottish Government is seeking the views of renters and landlords in a consultation on the Housing Bill.

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