Cost-of-living crisis: One million households will have rents capped as emergency rent freeze bill for Scotland passed by MSPs

Around a million Scottish households will have their rent capped for at least six months after an emergency rent freeze Bill passed its first hurdle in Holyrood.

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Conservative MSPs were the only dissenting voices in the Parliament, which voted 88 to 29 in favour of the Bill that is to be pushed through the chamber in three days.

The Bill will see rent increases capped at 0 per cent until the end of March next year, with the possibility of the Scottish Government extending the freeze for a further 12 months, brought in as a response to the cost-of-living crisis.

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Rents can be increased by up to 3 per cent if landlords can demonstrate increased costs such as higher mortgage interest payments as part of several safeguards in the Bill.

Landlords will also only be able to evict tenants for a handful of reasons, including significant rent arrears and whether they need to sell or move into the property they are renting due to financial difficulty.

Patrick Harvie, the tenant’s rights minister, told MSPs the Bill struck the “right balance”, but critics including landlord groups labelled the policy “irresponsible”.

The Scottish Green co-leader said the ongoing economic turmoil had the “making of a humanitarian crisis”, adding tenants were “so much more exposed” to the cost-of-living crisis.

Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie led the debate on an emergency rent freeze billScottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie led the debate on an emergency rent freeze bill
Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie led the debate on an emergency rent freeze bill

Mr Harvie said: “Some landlords are being very responsible and trying to protect tenants from rent increases, whether in terms of the cost of living or indeed over the years of the pandemic, but others are imposing eye-watering rent increases.

"I will be far from the only Glasgow MSP who has heard from tenants who are seeing 20, 30, 40 per cent increases.”

The cap comes in the context of around 2.2 million people covering much of the Central Belt and Fife seeing rents rise well above the rate of inflation since 2010.

Edinburgh and Glasgow tenants have seen average rents increase by more than double the rate of inflation in the same time period, Government statistics show.

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The average two-bed flat in the Scottish capital has risen from £665 in 2010 to almost £950 in 2021. In Glasgow that rise is from £564 to £797, and the Scottish average has increased from £554 to £693, with further rises likely for 2022.

However, Scotland is also lagging behind on house building, with the number of new houses either completed or started still lagging behind pre-2008 crash levels.

Miles Briggs, the Scottish Conservative housing spokesperson, said the Bill would “do little to increase the incomes of most social housing and private tenants” and accused the Scottish Government of a “cheap headline” policy that was “unworkable”.

“We know how this will end,” he said.

"Fewer private lets, a slump in building of affordable homes, increased rents for future tenants and students unable to secure vital accommodation to go and study at university.”

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, also labelled the policy “irresponsible” and “poor law” that “may well be open to legal challenge”, something Mr Harvie rejected.

However, tenants union Living Rent backed the move, saying it was “badly needed” and called on the Government to remove the safeguards allowing for an up to 3 per cent rent increase.

All episodes of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, are out now.

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