James Kelly MSP says it’s time to act to protect private sector tenants from rip-off rent rises. Let’s put the rhetoric of fairness into real action.
When it comes to political buzzwords “fairness” ranks pretty high up the list; regardless of whether you are left, right or centrist, you want you polices to be seen as “fair”.
Instead of being a buzzword I believe that fairness should be a central tenet for policy making in the first place. That is why Scottish Labour wants to reform the private rented sector – to make it fairer for those who use it.
The private rented sector has exploded in size in the last decade, now standing at over 300,000 households in Scotland. Nearly half of these households are families with children. Whilst for many renting is seen as a preferable option, we cannot ignore the fact that this growth has come at a time when social housing waiting lists stretch into the hundreds of thousands and the property ladder is unreachable for many Scots who cannot visit the bank of mum and dad.
So with the sector ever increasing, the question needs to be asked if it is working for the tenants who use it? The evidence suggests not.
Over 100,000 of private rented households in Scotland live in poverty.
Private renters in Scotland spend nearly a quarter of their income on housing – this is before food, energy bills, transport costs and child care.
That is why earlier this year I proposed banning rip-off rent rises as part of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014. The sad reality is that too many families in Scotland are living paycheque to paycheque. If the car breaks down or an unexpected bill drops through the letterbox they are in real trouble. The last thing people need is a bad landlord exploiting them with a huge rent increase.
My proposals were blocked by the SNP at the time. One MSP told me that my proposals may be suitable for the south of England, but not necessary in Scotland.
Except the evidence suggest that Scotland is one part of the UK that needs this action. The gap between social and private rents in Scotland is higher than in every English region except London.
The Scottish Government’s own research showed that in parts of Scotland average rents have risen by nearly 40% in four years. Edinburgh is second to only London as the most expensive city in the UK to rent.
In fact, the average Edinburgh tenant spends nearly half of their income on rent.
Capping rent increases has support form a range of sources, not least the Scottish Government’s own Expert Working Group on Welfare, who suggested they should rise in line with inflation.
Despite this wealth of evidence, the Scottish Government failed to include a bill on private sector reform in their programme for government, and earlier this month voted for a third time against banning rip off rent rises.
I should be clear, Scottish Labour is not proposing rent controls. What we want is a system of fairness which works for the tenant and the landlord. We want tenants to have the peace of mind to be able to budget year to year rather than week to week. and for landlords to have a clear framework of how much they can charge whilst keeping the properties in use.
The only landlords who should be opposed to our proposals are ones who rip off tenants. I do not understand why the SNP continue to vote to protect them. But Scottish Labour will not let this issue rest, because fairness needs to be more than a buzzword in politics.