Adam Lang: Righting wrongs in rental market
Recent research has highlighted that private renters in the UK already pay some of the highest rents in Europe, so news that Edinburgh's renters may face a 20 per cent increase in their housing bills (as reported in the News on Monday) is far from welcome. This comes on the back of economic predictions just last week that average wages may well remain stagnant until 2022, compounding the already very real financial hardship for households across Scotland.
For those on the average wage this means an ever increasing chunk of income is being devoured by the cost of keeping a roof over their heads and what’s left over has to stretch further and further to cover all of life’s other essentials.
Worse still are the consequences for those on below average wages. Someone on the minimum wage faces spending almost half their income on some of the cheapest one-bed flats and we know that more and more people in the private rented sector are being pushed into poverty by rising costs. If their rents continue to rise or they suffer a loss of income there’s a good chance they’ll find themselves with nowhere affordable to go to.
Last year in Edinburgh 3432 households were assessed as homeless. Homelessness represents a personal tragedy for all those it affects and we must do more at a national and local level to take a strategic, whole system approach to preventing homelessness wherever possible. At its most fundamental level, homelessness represents a structural failure of our housing system and highlights the significant strain that our housing safety net is currently under in Scotland.
At the root of the problem of rising private sector rents is the chronic lack of genuinely affordable homes available in Edinburgh and across Scotland. To begin to tackle this, we need to see a minimum of 12,000 affordable homes built every year over the lifetime of this parliament. Not only would this greater level of choice and availability in our housing system have a stabilising effect on private sector rents, it would make a real difference to the backlog of demand across the country. Last year in Edinburgh, there were 22,217 households on waiting lists for council and social sector properties.
Last year, significant and progressive changes were introduced to both the tenancy and rules that govern Scotland’s private rented sector, which Shelter Scotland helped to secure through our successful Make Renting Right campaign. These changes will see the introduction of a new tenancy regime which will make it harder for landlords to evict tenants without good reason and will limit rent increases to once a year. Tenants will also have stronger rights and will be able to appeal to a rent officer if they feel any rent increase is unfair.
Shelter Scotland will continue to monitor and scrutinise progress to ensure that these reforms to private renting are fully implemented and properly communicated to landlords and tenants. In order to have the greatest impact, however, these reforms to private renting must go hand in hand with a step change in the supply of affordable homes and renewed strategic leadership on tackling and preventing homelessness. By delivering on these issues, we can ensure there truly is a safe, secure and affordable home for everyone in Edinburgh and across Scotland.
Adam Lang is head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland