TRADE unionist members of the SNP have issued a call for the Scottish Government to reverse its policy on temporary rent controls.

The SNP Trade Union Group (TUG) – an official SNP-affiliated organisation – has called for Housing Minister Kevin Stewart and the Scottish Government to rethink its opposition to proposals to protect tenants and instead introduce new legislation to lower rents and limit evictions.

Last month, SNP MSPs voted down Scottish Greens’ amendments to the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill which would have ensured a two-year rent freeze for tenants and would have prevented evictions on the basis of arrears accrued during the Covid-19 emergency period.

The proposed legislation would also have established a Tenants Hardship Fund, but the Scottish Government opposed the amendments saying there were already payments going to tenants in hardship while the rents freeze was opposed by social housing providers. Speaking at Holyrood at the time, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie warned First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that Scotland would suffer a “tidal wave of evictions” unless tenants are protected from the impact of coronavirus.

SNP and Tory MSPs rejected the amendments to emergency coronavirus legislation after Sturgeon criticised the proposals.

Harvie said: “It’s hard to see now what is going to prevent a tidal wave of evictions sweeping people into homelessness services, which were barely coping before the pandemic.”

The First Minister said the amendments were “flawed”, “unnecessary”, and “would have had serious negative unintended consequences”.

She said: “One of the amendments called for a tenants’ fund – we already provide financial assistance to people who have difficulties paying rent through discretionary housing payments (DHPs), we don’t need to establish a new fund.

“Our responsibilities to make sure DHPs are properly resourced and we will continue to monitor and do that.”

Now in a letter to Stewart, the TUG has called for the Scottish Government to bring forward new legislation to protect tenants’ rights with protections against Covid-19 arrears evictions and a rent freeze.

The TUG has also called for the party leadership to introduce legislation for rent controls – a policy backed by SNP party conference in 2016.

Commenting, a spokesperson for the TUG said: “With incomes being cut and jobs being lost, tenants – often the most vulnerable people – cannot be expected to pay more and more to their landlords and face eviction. The SNP must be the party to stand up for tenants through rent controls and increased protections.

“Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, both social and private landlords were inflicting unsustainable runaway rents forcing people to spend greater proportions of their income. This is entrenching inequality and the Scottish Government must address the imbalance with rent controls – as called for by the SNP’s own members four years ago.

“Housing is a human right and no one should be made homeless or be expected to pay unfair rents, especially during an economic and health crisis. Tenants need certainty that they will be protected instead of being expected to subsidise landlords’ lifestyles during crises. We must ensure dignity for tenants through fair rents.”