Labour calls for PRS reform amid £2bn housing benefit spend to private landlords

Pauline McNeill MSP
Pauline McNeill MSP

New figures which reveal that private landlords in Scotland have made billions of pounds from housing benefit claimants in five years have led to calls for reform in the sector by Scottish Labour.

Details of the spend in rent payments made to the private sector, obtained by Glasgow Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, found that in the last year available, 2015/16, housing benefit payments in Scotland to all landlords totalled £1.77 billion. Over 25 per cent of that (£433.8 million) was paid out to private landlords.

The amount and percentage has stayed stable for the last five years at around a quarter of all the cash going to private landlords.

The total bill for the last five years for housing benefit paid to private sector landlords reached £2.23bn out of the total spend of £8.83bn.

Ms McNeill said taxpayers’ cash was funding the lifestyles of private landlords instead of being invested in affordable housing.

She said: “Our social security spending should be supporting out most vulnerable people, not boosting the profit margins of private landlords.”

She said Labour wanted the private rented sector reformed and action taken on “rip-off” rent rises.

Ms McNeill added: “It is clear we need to build more homes. Labour wants to build 60,000 over the next five years with 45,000 for rent through a council or housing association. With waiting lists for homes stretching into the decades we need a change of direction from the SNP Government.”

In response, the Scottish Government has defended its track record on housing delivery.

A spokesperson said: “We have an excellent track record on housing and are committed to achieving sustainable, long-term solutions to address housing issues.

“In the previous session of Parliament, we exceeded our target of delivering 30,000 affordable homes by 10 per cent, and our bold and ambitious More Homes Scotland approach will build on that achievement.

“We have committed to investing over £3bn to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes over the next five years and by ending Right to Buy we are protecting up to 15,000 social homes for sale over the next 10 years and safeguarding this stock for future generations.

“This is accompanied by increased housing subsidy levels and a new rural and islands housing fund to increase the supply of affordable rural housing.”

He added that the most recent statistics also showed a 34 per cent rise of affordable housing supply approvals in Scotland, which demonstrated the impact of the government’s commitment.

“The Private Tenancies Act, passed earlier this year, will provide rent stability and predictability for tenants in the private rented sector,” he added.

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