Joe Cullinane

Scottish Labour Councillor for Kilwinning

We need rent controls to bring down the cost of private rents

Joe outlines his support for the Living Rent campaign.


 

Over the summer months I have been out campaigning for better housing. I launched my Home Sweet Home campaign because housing is not a commodity, it is a basic human need. However, over decades housing in this country has changed drastically and not all for the better.
More people now own their home than rent from a social landlord. However, home ownership is not financially viable for a large section of the population, particularly young people with home ownership amongst 25-34 year olds falling from 60% to 40%, but they still need housed. So what’s available for this group?
Some will be lucky to have social housing but we simply don’t have enough social houses to meet demand. The fact almost 5000 families are on the waiting list in North Ayrshire is a clear illustration of this. That leaves the private rented sector which has boomed in size over the last few decades. Today around 6000 families in North Ayrshire privately rent, some will choose to do so and be happy with their choice. For too many though they simply won’t have any other option, they are forced to privately rent.
There are good private landlords who take excellent care of their properties, are diligent in meeting the needs of their tenants and don’t charge an arm and a leg in rent. However, not all are.
During my campaign I have already upset the Scottish Association of Landlords with my views on the amount of Housing Benefit being paid to private landlords (over £10million was paid direct to private landlords in North Ayrshire in Housing Benefit last year, money that I called a “public subsidy” which would be better invested in building more social houses). I wasn’t surprised that they took offence by my comments because, at the end of the day, they have a vested interest in defending the status quo for private landlords. My priority though is trying to make our housing system fairer, one where not only those who are able to afford it have housing options.
One thing we need to do is build more social houses and that’s been the most popular response when I have asked local people what their housing priority would be. Another though is making the private rented sector fairer.
One way to do that would be to introduce rent controls. That’s why I am proud to be backing the Living Rent campaign.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation poverty in the private rented sector has trebled over the last decade to 29%. Sky high private rents have meant that, on average, a private renter spends 25% of their income on rent compared to just 11% for home owners.
Rent controls are required to bring down the cost of private renting. They are not a new idea though. Scotland had rent controls until Thatcher scrapped them in the 1980’s. Most European countries also operate some form of rent controls and they are successful. Devolution means the Scottish Government has the power to deliver rent controls, and its time they did so. Unfortunately, last year they voted against Scottish Labour’s proposal to cap rent increases to inflation. With 8000 people signing the Living Rent campaign petition I hope they have a change of heart, and for the sake of those private renters who don’t have a good landlord I hope they do so soon.

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