Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is proposing a ‘Mary Barbour law’ that would tie rents to average wages as part of his commitment to transform the economy under a Labour government. A public consultation on the measure was launched last month.
UK and Scottish Government figures show the median weekly wage in Scotland rose from £396 to £442 between 2012 and 2017 – an increase of 12 per cent. The average rent for a two-bedroom property rose from £553 to £643 over the same period – a rise of 16 per cent.
Under Labour’s proposals, rent controls would be enforced through a points-based system, with rents linked to average wages. Tenants would be given the power to challenge rent increases and submit rent reduction claims.
There would also be tough new standards for private rented properties in health and safety, and energy efficiency.
Labour’s housing spokeswoman Pauline McNeill MSP said: “Scotland’s housing crisis is seeing private sector rents rising faster than people’s wages, making housing even more expensive and pushing people further into poverty.
“Too many young families are caught in a vicious cycle – a lack of affordable public housing forces people to rent privately and as a result they are paying rip-off rents, which stops them saving for a deposit to buy their own home.
“Our Mary Barbour law, which I am bringing forward as a Member’s Bill, would stop this happening and give people hope that they can have secure, affordable tenancies. Only Scottish Labour has a plan for real change in the housing sector which will help the many, not the few.”
Landlords have warned the plans could see housing stock removed from the private rental market, adding to the pressure on prices and fuelling the housing crisis.
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association (NLA), has criticised Labour’s plan for imposing “arbitrary caps” on rents and failing to take into account the “rising costs of providing and maintaining good quality rental accommodation”. Rent increases have been in line with inflation, the NLA argues.
In December, Scottish Government legislation came into force that limits landlords to a single rent increase in any 12-month period.
Labour’s plans are inspired by political activist and magistrate Mary Barbour, who organised a rent strike by women in Govan during the First World War.