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Housing

Bristol Council to ask government for powers to bring in rent controls as costs spiral

As rents continue to soar across Britain, Bristol Council is taking a stand

A council in England is demanding the government grants it powers to bring in rent controls as the housing crisis spirals out of control.

Private tenants are currently facing the highest rise in rent since records began seven years ago, according to the ONS figures. A quarter of tenants surveyed in December said their rent had risen in the past six months, with the UK average now £991 a month. The average tenant is paying 24 per cent of their weekly expenditure on housing compared to 16 per cent for those with a mortgage, the ONS found.

And Bristol Council is looking to take matters into its own hands. Councillors last week voted through a motion setting out a range of interventions in the current unaffordable private rented sector, including calling for powers allowing it to bring in rent controls.

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The motion was put forward by Cllr Tom Renhard, Bristol’s housing lead.

“Thankfully the motion was passed and we now want powers to be devolved to us to implement rent controls,” said Renhard.

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“If we don’t get the powers, we’re going to have a worsening of the current situation.

“These are people who are working, they have jobs. People don’t want to come to Bristol anymore and we’re going to see a wider impact on the city itself.”

Councils do not have legal powers to introduce rent controls, but Bristol will be calling on the government to grant it those powers when it presents its Living Rent Commission’s report on why rent controls are needed.

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An analysis of all Rightmove listings in 2022 found the average rent for a two-bed property in Bristol has risen by 13.4 per cent in a year between December 2021 and December 2022. 

Renhard said he hoped Bristol could lead the way for others. “Our work is being followed closely,” he said.

“We often hear from the landlord lobby that more regulation is bad and that ‘the market will regulate itself’. This clearly isn’t the case and that’s why we need government intervention to get a handle on this growing crisis,” said Amy Cullum of renters group Acorn.

“While in some cases, landlords are passing on increasing mortgage rates to their tenants, it’s also clear that some are cashing in on this situation, seeing it as an opportunity to maximise their profits.

“We call on other councils to follow suit and to lobby for housing decisions to be devolved, so local councils have the power to implement rent controls.”

The government at present does not support rent controls, but the much-delayed Renters Reform Bill has promised to give councils more power to enforce and protect renters’ rights, as well as scrapping section 21 – “no fault” – evictions and create a landlords register.

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director at Generation Rent, added: “Landlords are raising the rent because they can. If a tenant can’t afford to pay a higher rent, landlords know that it is easy at the moment to find a tenant who can.

“The Renters Reform Bill will be a huge opportunity to protect tenants from unaffordable rent increases.”

According to government figures, almost 53,000 households have been threatened with homelessness due to a section 21 eviction notice since they were originally meant to be banned in 2019.

And 5,940 households in England were issued with a section 21 eviction notice over spring last year alone.

Flatshare site SpareRoom reported that London rents for the last quarter of 2022 were up 22 per cent, leaving the average cost of a room £935.

Siobhan Donnachie from London Renters Union said: “By refusing to control rents, the government has given landlords licence to force through unjustifiably high rent hikes year on year, well above increases in wages.”

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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