Tenants (Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2022.

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Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

3. To ask the First Minister what further steps the Scottish Government will take to support tenants facing the cost of living crisis. (S6F-01341)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The impacts of the cost of living crisis are being felt by all households and there is a disproportionate impact on people on the lowest incomes, which can, of course, include tenants.

Therefore, as announced this week, we will introduce emergency legislation to deliver a moratorium on evictions and a rent freeze until at least 31 March next year.

We are also extending the tenant grant fund and investing an additional £5 million in discretionary housing payments, increasing our total financial support to over £88 million for housing support that mitigates United Kingdom Government policies such as the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and the local housing allowance.

This Parliament does not yet have the levers that we desperately need to respond fully to the cost of living crisis. Therefore, we will also continue to urge the UK Government to comprehensively and urgently take the actions needed to combat it.

Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

I thank the First Minister for her welcome response.

Does she agree that the ambition that she outlined in the programme for government to introduce a rent freeze and a halt to evictions puts the Scottish Government far ahead of anywhere else in the UK in protecting tenants? Does she also agree that the commitment should rightly be seen as a central part of our far-reaching programme of reform, as outlined in the new deal for tenants, which is being led by my Green Party colleague Patrick Harvie as Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, and that our shared commitment shows the value of political co-operation in developing detailed, workable and robust protections for tenants?

The First Minister:

Yes, I agree with that. It is a statement of fact that the announcement on rent freezes puts us ahead of any other part of the UK on that, as on so many other issues. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, commented on Tuesday that he wished that he had the powers to do something similar.

Our commitment to introduce a rent freeze is important and it will help to ease the cost pressures that people are facing; therefore, it is very important in that context. I agree that the policy is an example of what can be achieved when parties come together constructively to work together in the interests of the people of Scotland, which is what the Scottish National Party and the Green Party are doing. The policy is one good example among many of joint and constructive working.

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has told the BBC that the support package from the UK Government will mean that the

majority of the money will go to better off people who use more energy”,

and that the package is “very poorly targeted”.

What are the First Minister’s views on that assessment? Does she agree that nothing that has been currently proposed by the Tories goes far enough to ameliorate the deepening crisis for people and businesses?

The Presiding Officer:

Ms Whitham’s question was not related wholly to the substantive question. I would be grateful if the First Minister could address it briefly.

The First Minister:

I share the concern that we have a new Prime Minister who does not think that redistribution is important, and that she does not think that there is anything unfair about giving more help to those who are better off than those who are worst off. However, my main concern about what has been announced about the UK Government’s energy support package—this is relevant to rents, because it is relevant to the overall cost crisis—is that it does not freeze energy bills. We need a proper freeze in energy bills, and I think that it is important to continue to press the UK Government to do that.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

When Living Rent and I first raised the need for an emergency rent freeze with the First Minister, in April, the average rent in Scotland was £780. It now stands at £840, which is at least a 10 per cent increase in just five months. The Labour Party proposed a rent freeze in June, but SNP and Green MSPs teamed up with the Tories to block that. Their political choice to unnecessarily delay support for a rent freeze led to further financial hardship for tenants. In fairness to tenants, will the First Minister explore backdating the rent freeze to June?

The First Minister:

As has been well canvassed and rehearsed in the chamber, there were real reasons why the amendment to the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill proposing a rent freeze could not be supported. As I said to Anas Sarwar, and as I hope everyone who wants the policy to be successfully implemented will accept, we need to make sure that the policy can withstand any legal challenge. That test is unlikely to be met if legislation were to be applied retrospectively, which is an important point to take into account.

Finally, I pay tribute to Mercedes Villalba for the work that she has done on the issue. It has been important and it is to her great credit. I thank her for the work, because we have taken many of the points that she has made into account when reaching the decision to freeze rents and implement other measures to protect tenants, as we announced to the Parliament.