Nicola Sturgeon has promised to bring in emergency legislation to introduce a rent freeze in Scotland, as part of of measures to tackle the “humanitarian emergency” sparked by the cost-of-living crisis.
The Scottish First Minister urged new Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has yet to unveil her plans to tackle the problem, to freeze energy bills.
Ms Sturgeon also said she had written to the new occupant of 10 Downing Street, repeating her plea for an emergency four nations summit to be held on the “cost crisis”.
But while she said the Scottish Government could not act on energy bills, the First Minister promised action from Holyrood ministers.
She said that rail fares on ScotRail – which was brought into public ownership earlier this year – would be frozen until at least March 2023.
She went on to announce the Scottish Government will bring in emergency legislation to freeze rents for both the private and socially rented sectors.
The First Minister has just announced emergency legislation to freeze rents and ban evictions until at least 31st March!
— Ross Greer (@Ross_Greer) September 6, 2022
Speaking at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: “In what is perhaps the most significant announcement I will make today I can confirm to Parliament we will take immediate action to protect tenants in the private and in the social rented sectors.
“I can announce that we will shortly introduce emergency legislation to Parliament. The purpose of the emergency law will be two-fold.
“Firstly, it will aim to give people security about the roof over their head this winter through a moratorium on evictions.
Today @NicolaSturgeon outlines a Programme for Government designed to help people with the cost emergency.
It will increase the Scottish Child Payment to £25 per eligible child per week and open to applications for all eligible under-16s from 14 Nov.
— First Minister (@ScotGovFM) September 6, 2022
“Secondly, the legislation will include measures to deliver a rent freeze.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government does not have the power to stop your energy bills soaring, but we can and will take action to make sure that your rent does not rise.”
Under the legislation, the First Minister said, rent would be frozen from Tuesday until at least March of next year.
Her comments came as she confirmed her Government would bring in a Bill to hold a second independence referendum in October next year – if ministers get the go-ahead on this from the UK Supreme Court.
However, the First Minister insisted that leaving the rest of the UK would “give us the wherewithal to build a better, wealthier, fairer future”.
She said the current cost-of-living crisis “highlights – starkly – the pressing need for independence”.
Ms Sturgeon added: “We are being reminded every day that where – and in whose hands – power lies really matters.”
Speaking about the “rapidly escalating crisis” over living costs, the First Minister insisted action was needed on a “scale similar to the Covid response”.
Closing her speech, the First Minister said she hoped to “foster a spirit of solidarity” in the country during the cost-of-living crisis, as was the case during the pandemic.
“And just as we did in the face of a virus, we will foster a spirit of solidarity to help each other through the challenges ahead.
“We will provide as much security and reassurance as we can in these tough times.
“As we continue to lay the foundations for a more equal and more sustainable country.”
In a speech focused largely on the financial problems looming over Scots, the First Minister was candid about spending which can be offered by Government, claiming the budget was “under severe and increasing pressure”.
“I have a duty to be frank about the limits this puts on our ability to respond as fully as we want to”, she told MSPs.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused the First Minister of playing to her supporters, as she announced the referendum Bill would be introduced this year if the Supreme Court referral deems it within the gift of Holyrood.
“The SNP and the Greens are failing to put their party politics aside in the face of these massive challenges that we’re facing,” he said.
If reports on a rent freeze are true then it’s good news for those struggling now.
Huge credit to @LabourMercedes who has campaigned to deliver this.
I’m glad the SNP & Greens have changed their minds.
But there is more they can do. Labour’s Emergency Cost of Living Act 👇🏻 https://t.co/xS730EOy12
— Anas Sarwar (@AnasSarwar) September 6, 2022
“They’re failing to pause their priorities to focus on the national interest.
“And they’re failing to rise to the challenge of this crisis and be bold in their action, which the public expect.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar welcomed the Scottish Government’s “change of heart” on rent freezes.
A proposal by Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba aimed to freeze rent for around two years until controls were introduced.
The First Minister has announced a Rent Freeze for Scotland's tenants.
I am proud to have championed the campaign in Parliament, but it was won by the collective organising of Scotland's tenants' rights activists (of all Parties and none).
Now let's reduce rents for good! ✊
— Mercedes Villalba (@LabourMercedes) September 6, 2022
But the motion was rejected by SNP, Tory and Green MSPs in June following a parliamentary vote.
Tenants’ rights minister Patrick Grady had previously said the policy was “unworkable” and “not something that I could recommend the Government supporting”.
Mr Sarwar said: “I want to welcome the change of heart from the SNP and the Greens when it comes to rent freezes.
“This is a practical measure that will support many people who need help now.
“I’m glad that months of campaigning from my colleague Mercedes Villalba and the living rent campaign paid off.”
However, Sally Thomas, chief executive at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, warned a rent freeze without increased government support could jeopardise affordable home targets.
Ms Thomas said: “If a rent freeze continues without increased government support, we risk housing associations being unable to build the new social homes that Scotland desperately needs, and it is more than likely we won’t achieve the target of 110,000 new affordable homes by 2032.”