Hurray! Nicola Sturgeon announces a rent freeze
Scotland announces crucial changes to combat the cost of living crisis - here's what renters in the rest of the UK can do...
words Team Woo
Scotland has done it again! After becoming the first country to provide free period products in August, it's made another great announcement as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now tabled plans to help safeguard tenants against the cost of living crisis.
Specifically, Sturgeon has revealed intentions to pass emergency legislation banning evictions for both social and private tenants this winter and a rent freeze for social and private tenants until 31 March 2022.
Scotland's rent freeze, explained
The news has been met positively across social media, but how far do they really go? To find out, Woo reached out to Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, for answers.
"A rent freeze and an eviction moratorium is a huge step in the right direction by the Scottish government and will go a long way in supporting tenants,” said Meg Bishop, the secretary of Living Rent.
However, there is concern that the measures may not cover every necessary scenario. “The devil will be in the detail and it is important that this rent freeze applies across the board, from purpose built student accommodation to social housing, from rent increases starting today to rent notifications issued two months ago,” Bishop added.
In May 2022, the renting platform Citylets reported an 8.5% year-on-year national increase in monthly rents across cross Scotland, with the increase being considerably steeper in Scotland’s major cities: Edinburgh experienced a 14% rise and in Glasgow this stood at 16%.
“We know that rents are already too high and have increased by over 60 percent in Scottish cities in the last ten years,” explained Bishop. “This rent freeze is a great emergency response, and will need to stay in place until the Scottish government brings in proper rent controls that push rents down.”
It’s also worth remembering that while Scotland has a reputation for much cheaper rents than the rest of the UK, 2022 research by Scottish Trade Unions Congress (Scotland’s largest trade union body) stating that national wages have fallen behind the rest of the UK.
What else is Scotland doing to combat the cost of living crisis?
Sturgeon unveiled rent freeze measures as part of her programme for government, the plans and projects that she hopes to undertake in Scotland throughout the forthcoming year. The focus was largely on the cost of living crisis, with other promises including a £5 weekly increase in the Scottish Child Payment from 14 November, an extension of free school meals to now also include children in primaries 6 and 7 (the equivalent of years 5 and 6) and fare freezes for the newly publicly owned ScotRail.
During her speech outlining the programme for the coming year, Sturgeon argued that action to combat the cost of living crisis should be on a similar scale to the covid response and that the severity of rising bills "poses a danger not just to livelihoods but to lives”.
However, these ambitious proposals were bookended by warnings about the Scottish government’s dwindling spending power with Sturgeon explaining that the budget was running short ahead of her programme announcement and Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney explaining the next day that £500 million in cuts to spending would be made with agricultural funds and employability schemes to be impacted.
What can the rest of the UK do to combat rising rent prices?
With rents rising across the UK, some individuals may be served with rent increases by their landlords - what can you do if you’re affected?
If you are in a tenancy in England — and there is not a rent review clause in your contract or you are not currently in the fixed term of your tenancy — your landlord will have to serve you a section 13 notice to increase your rent.
If you don’t agree with your rent increase, you can contact your landlord to explain your concerns and if an agreement is not reached you can challenge it.
For example, if you are served a section 13 notice, you can challenge it if contains any errors, such as: being delivered without the necessary one month’s notice, there is a mistake like the wrong address or name, it hasn’t been signed by your landlord or the right form hasn’t been used.
Even if there are no errors on the notice, you may be able to query the rise if, for example, it is unreasonable due to damage or pending repairs in the residence. In order to formally do this, you need to fill in a Rents1 form to apply for a tribunal review. During the tribunal, two or three property professionals will decide whether the increase is valid.
However, while this might work for a select number of individual renters in long-term tenancies, it will not work for individuals changing tenancies who do not get a say in the prices set for rents. Clearly, some form of organised, collective action is needed — and, understandably, when it comes to freezing rent across the UK and introducing Scottish rent caps, Bishop is enthusiastic about the potential of renters’ unions.
“Make no mistake, [the rent freeze] would not have been possible without years of organising by members of Living Rent, Scotland’s Tenants Union,” Blair said. "Tenants across the UK should join their local tenants union and organise to ensure that in Scotland the rent freeze remains in place until rent controls bring rents down and in the UK and the British government introduces a rent freeze.”
A tenants’ or renters’ union normally takes a small membership fee in exchange for support with issues such as requesting repair work, challenging harassment or bad practice from landlords and stopping illegal evictions.
Some major renters’ unions in the UK, besides Living Rent in Scotland, include London Renters Union, Greater Manchester Tenants Union, ACORN (which is UK-wide, including a branch in Cardiff) and Community Action Tenants Union in Belfast.