City mayors call for rent freeze and eviction ban for England’s tenants

City mayors call for rent freeze and eviction ban for England’s tenants thumbnail

An immediate rent freeze and a ban on evictions should be introduced in England to help renters deal with the cost of living crisis, the mayors of three of the biggest cities have said.

It would bring the country into line with Scotland, where tenants have been protected under emergency measures designed to curb a “humanitarian emergency” announced by Nicola Sturgeon last September.

“Rising costs of food and energy mean millions are struggling to make ends meet,” the campaigners wrote in an open letter to the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, on Wednesday, saying renters were “among the worst affected by the cost of living crisis”.

“A rent freeze would immediately relieve pressure on millions of people and halt an eviction crisis that would have a devastating social impact, and cost local councils and the government millions,” they added.

Signatories to the letter, coordinated by the London Renters Union, included Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, and his counterparts in Liverpool and London, Steve Rotheram and Sadiq Khan. They were joined by the co-leaders of the Green party and several trade union leaders, among others.

They highlighted official figures showing that private renters across the UK spent four or five times more on housing costs than owners in the financial year ending 2021, as well as a survey conducted last year by the campaign group Generation Rent which suggested only 11% of landlords who had raised rates cited their own rising mortgage costs as a motivation.

Research released by the homelessness charity Shelter in September 2022 – at around the same time Scotland’s first minister announced a rent freeze and eviction ban – suggested more than 1 million private renters in England, or roughly one in seven, had seen their rents increase in the last month.

The Shelter report painted a grim picture of the situation facing tenants. The charity said the research by YouGov indicated millions of private tenants in England were “stretched to breaking point”, with almost 2.5 million renters either behind or constantly struggling to pay rent – a figure it said had increased by 45% since April 2022.

“At the same time, rents have been skyrocketing across the UK, rising fastest in Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield and Birmingham, reaching as high as 20.5%. Rents in London have gone up 17.8% on average last year, and rent increases of 30 to 50% are increasingly common,” the campaigners told Gove.

In Scotland, the government announced a total rent freeze and ban on evictions last September. The scheme has been extended to September this year, but from April it will begin to allow rent increases of up to 3% and evictions in extreme circumstances.

The campaigners urged Gove to introduce measures in line with the more stringent rules originally imposed and currently in force in Scotland.

Local leaders in England – including those in London and Bristol – have been calling for Westminster to grant them powers to set rent controls in their own areas. But ministers have insisted they will do no such thing.

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In the Commons last week, the Labour MP Nadia Whittome put the question to the housing minister, Felicity Buchan, who replied: “The government do not support the introduction of rent controls in the private rental sector.” She said controls would “discourage investment, lead to declining property standards and may encourage illegal subletting.”

However, one Tory MP has spoken out in favour of rent controls. In an article for Conservative Home last September, Natalie Elphicke wrote: “There is a strong case for government intervention on rents for a limited period during these extraordinary times. On Thursday, she added: “The impact of repossessions, especially on children, is truly terrible. Last year, I called for a rent freeze and mortgage support for low income households. More must be done, and quickly, to help keep people in their homes.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We recognise the pressures brought on by the rising cost of living, which is why we delivered £1,200 of direct support to millions of households last year, including £400 towards energy costs, and will be providing a further £1,350 of support to the most vulnerable households over the next year.”

A spokesperson said “evidence shows rent controls in the private sector do not work, leading to declining standards and a lack of investment and may encourage illegal subletting”.