Rents should be frozen and evictions banned this winter as the cost-of-living crisis puts the squeeze on tenants, causing an increase in homelessness, the Senedd has heard.
Mabon ap Gwynfor led a debate on a Plaid Cymru motion, which highlighted a 13.9 per cent rise in rents for new tenancies in 2021-22 and 6.5 per cent in 2022-23.
The shadow housing minister told MSs that almost 2,000 people are put into temporary accommodation every month in Wales.
He said: “There are now nearly 12,000 people in temporary accommodation, with a quarter of them being children.
“And let's remind ourselves, temporary accommodation is not a holiday.
“There are no kitchens to prepare food, no quiet rooms to do homework in or escape, and there is no freedom to come and go.”
Mr ap Gwynfor criticised the UK Government’s “mismanagement” of the economy, agreeing with Welsh ministers about the importance of increasing the local housing allowance (LHA)
He welcomed the chancellor’s announcement that LHA will be unfrozen, with the rate increased to the lower 30 per cent of rents from April.
On Wednesday, Jeremy Hunt told the UK Parliament the change would give 1.6 million households an average of £800 of support next year.
Mr Gwynfor urged the Welsh Government to take steps to help renters: “It can freeze rents and prevent evictions as a short-term solution. This is something that it can do today.”
Sam Rowlands, for the Conservatives, raised concerns about house building falling 19 per cent in the last financial year to 4,500 – less than half of the 12,000 that ministers say are needed.
Mr Rowlands argued that evidence shows rent controls do not work, citing the example of Edinburgh declaring a housing emergency last month despite rent caps in Scotland.
He told MSs that landlords are being unfairly singled out and many are selling up, which is causing rents to increase further.
Sioned Williams, the Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales West, said 14 per cent of people in Wales are worried about losing their homes, according to Bevan Foundation research.
Jenny Rathbone, a Labour backbencher, who represents Cardiff Central, said the decision to freeze LHA in 2020 has had devastating consequences.
She told MSs that a huge shortage of housing in Cardiff and LHA rates have led to a massive increase in demand for food banks.
Plaid Cymru’s Heledd Fychan focused on students, saying: “It's almost seen as usual or a rite of passage that you have to put up with substandard accommodation.”
Julie James, Wales’ housing minister, recognised that tenants have faced unprecedented rises in rents, which are causing financial hardship for many.
“I do not, however, support a snap rent freeze,” she said.
Ms James told the Senedd that the motion proposes the “most extreme” form of control by freezing all rents.
She argued: “It would be completely irresponsible to introduce a rent freeze without a clear understanding of what impact this might have on the sector.”
Stressing that rent controls are not a magic bullet, she pointed out that Scotland’s freeze, which was followed by a three per cent cap, has not seen a corresponding drop in rental prices.
The minister did not support calls for a freeze on evictions this winter as she highlighted protection for tenants under the Renting Homes Act which came into force in 2022.
She said: “Anyone served an eviction notice as early as today couldn't be evicted until late May at the very earliest, which is well after the winter period.”
Ms James, who has repeatedly called for LHA to be raised, highlighted concerns that low-income tenants will not feel the benefit until April and she called for a 50 per cent rate.
She questioned the statistics in the motion, saying the figures come from a report by Rightmove based on new tenancies rather than the whole market.
The minister clarified that the Office for National Statistics reports that rents in Wales increased by 1.6 per cent in 2021-22 and 4.4 per cent in 2022-23.
The Plaid Cymru motion was defeated and the Conservative amendment was deselected, with the motion as amended by the Welsh Government agreed.