Campaigners call for social housing rent strike after Tories refuse freeze

Four million social housing households face threat of double digit rent increases.

As energy bills and inflation continues to soar, tenants of social housing are being encouraged to withhold rent in protest of the government’s offer of support.

A consultation will take place on government plans to cap social housing rents from April 2023. Under plans announced by housing secretary Greg Clark this week, the cap would limit rises to 3, 5 or 7 percent. The exact figures will be set following the consultation, as will whether the temporary cap will be in place for one year or two.

The government controls how much social housing rents can rise annually. It typically sets the rate at one percent above inflation. However, with inflation currently at 10.1 percent and poised to increase even further, tenants of social housing face rent rises reaching double figures, on top of eye-watering energy bills.

Campaigners have warned the plans to cap rent rises for social housing tenants don’t go far enough. Calling for an emergency rent freeze, campaigners described the proposals as like “sticking plaster on an open wound.”

‘Totally unacceptable’

Labour Campaign for Council Housing has written to housing campaigns and tenant unions, proposing a coalition to campaign for the government to introduce a rent freeze, as an emergency measure.  

Ben Clay, chairman of Labour Campaign for Council Housing, said: “We are calling for an emergency rent freeze across all tenures, to prevent spiralling costs pushing tenants into destitution, and leading to a wave of evictions.

“This is totally unacceptable in the fifth richest economy in the world.”

Martin Wicks, Secretary of the Labour Campaign for Council Housing, spoke of how adding an ‘unprecedented rent increase” on top of the financial pressure tenants are already facing, many of whom are poor, will “impoverish them further.”

“Millions of people are worrying about whether they will be able to afford the essentials of life through the winter when they will need their heating on but will be faced with unaffordable bills.

“A 10 percent rent rise will increase the stress on people who are already struggling to get by from month to month. Nobody can have a stable life without the security of a roof over their head and rent which is within their means.”

Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC), a network of tenants, residents, workers and activists in housing associations and cooperatives, are calling for rents and service charges to be frozen. The group is urging tenants to go on rent strike in protests if freezes don’t go ahead.

Suz Muna, a member of Unite Housing Workers branch and SHAC committees, says housing associations should either receive target support or use reserves to help prevent financial difficulties for tenants.

“SHAC is still firmly of the view that a cap even set at 3 percent would be too high for housing association tenants and residents, based on the considerable numbers who are already overstretched financially,” said Muna.

“It would mean people taking on more debt or cutting back further on essentials. It would have catastrophic consequences for their physical and mental health, and would destabilise people on the edge. We are likely to see a rise in evictions, a rise in homelessness, and increases in all the social problems that accompany the creation of a mass of impoverished, desperate people.

“We argue that government should set the rent cap at zero and extend this to service charges and shared owner rents. If rents and service charges are increased next year, SHAC and partners are supporting non-payment of the increases,” she added.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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