Associate Feature: Rent freeze proposals jeopardise affordable housebuilding
Scotland is facing an escalating cost of living crisis, and it is people on the lowest incomes, many of whom will be social housing tenants, who are experiencing the worst of it. At the time of writing, the emergency Cost of Living (Protection of Tenants) (Scotland) Bill, is set to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament. While we understand and share the intention to help people, in reality, the bill’s proposals would do little to increase the incomes of most social housing tenants but would reduce Scotland’s ability to tackle poverty because of its impact on affordable housebuilding.
Housing associations and co-operatives are not-for-profit, charitable organisations which exist to provide affordable rented housing. Our members are required by law to set social rents in consultation with tenants, providing them with certainty about their rents. Despite no government restrictions, social rent in Scotland is around half the level charged in the private sector. The greater availability of social housing has been found by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to directly reduce poverty in Scotland.
A rent freeze will not affect many social housing tenants’ incomes as between 60–70% are entitled to have their rents covered by welfare benefits paid by the UK Government. However, as rent is a vital source of income for our members, a freeze would result in housing associations being forced to cut back on development and support services as well as struggling to improve and maintain existing stock and meet net zero targets.
By the time you read this, the bill will likely have passed, introducing a rent freeze until 31 March 2023. We are urging the Scottish Government to rethink this policy beyond that date as we do not want to see its damaging consequences in the social sector. SFHA is keen to work with the Scottish Government so, together, we can find solutions that work for tenants, social landlords and the government.
Carolyn Lochhead is Director of Public Affairs and Communications at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
This article is sponsored by the SFHA