the debating chamber at the senedd
The debating chamber at The Senedd Credit: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament)

The housing secretary poured cold water on suggestions Wales could follow Scotland’s lead by introducing similar rent controls, saying early indications show it has not worked.

Julie James was pressed for her views on rent controls in Scotland while giving evidence to a Senedd inquiry on the private-rented sector.

Altaf Hussain quizzed the housing secretary about affordability, raising concerns about rent rises since the pandemic, with landlords asking for big deposits and months’ rent upfront.

The Conservative warned this is leading some into unmanageable debt as he questioned whether there is a need to regulate a maximum deposit and rent.

Asked about the Welsh Government’s current thinking on rent regulation, Ms James told the local government and housing committee: “It hasn’t really worked in Scotland, I’m afraid.

‘Slim to none’

“We’ve got some evidence, although it’s early days, to be fair, so we’ll want to monitor that for a longer time period. But, so far, the evidence is it’s not having the desired effect.”

Ms James pointed to a Welsh Government green paper calling for evidence on the right to adequate housing and rent control policies, with a second consultation to follow in summer.

She said: “We’re very keen to look at international examples from all over the place in terms of what works to get affordable rents into the sector.”

Ms James said she was very nervous the renters bill and leasehold reforms will not make it through the UK Parliament before a general election is called.

She warned: “We’ve got two years left of the legislative programme and the possibility of bringing a large bill through to replicate this is slim to none.”

‘Power imbalance’

Lee Waters, who was Ms James’ deputy until last month, said many tenants have damp or disrepair issues, but are unaware of their rights or too frightened for fear of eviction.

Suggesting the Welsh housing quality standard should be extended to the private sector, the Llanelli MS warned of a fundamental power imbalance between landlords and tenants.

Ms James criticised the UK Government for reneging on a commitment to uplift quality standards for the private rented sector at the last minute.

The housing secretary said protections under Wales’ Renting Homes Act have led to a substantial drop in evictions since coming into force in December 2022.

Mr Waters said tenants who are forced to move because their landlord has decided to sell face an average cost of about £1,700, suggesting two months’ rent should be waived.

Pet horses

Jack Sargeant, also a Labour backbencher, asked about pet-friendly policies, warning some homeless people face the dilemma of having a place to stay or giving up a companion.

Ms James said she was not able to pick which parts of the UK’s renters bill would apply, but she accepted an offer to be involved in “no benefits claimants” and “no children” exclusions.

She pointed to guidance that landlords cannot unreasonably refuse the right to have a pet but Ms James stressed there must be sensible limits

Recalling how she was once called to a high-rise building while working for Swansea council, she said: “We took an engineer with us and the lift kept breaking because people on the seventh floor were keeping a horse in their kitchen.

“This horse was relieving itself in the lift on the way down and it was breaking the mechanism. It was quite something to see this horse in this kitchen, I have to say.”


John Griffiths, who chairs the committee, raised concerns about a mismatch between the number of students and the amount of purpose-built accommodation in university cities.

Ms James said she has tried to persuade council planning departments they have the power to enforce better standards for student accommodation, so it can be more easily repurposed.

She admitted: “I have not been terribly successful at this but I plan to have another go.”

The former lawyer told committee members other levers will be looked at, including any unintended consequences of the council tax exemption for students.

Mr Griffiths also asked about scope for institutional investment in build-to-rent schemes, which often include shared facilities such as gyms.


Ms James said: “It’s not huge in Wales. It’s a lot less huge than it has become in England,” as she argued build-to-rent is not the solution to the housing crisis.

Mr Waters asked about low take-up of Leasing Scheme Wales, which offers incentives for owners to lease homes to councils, amid concerns the application process is “a bit of a faff”.

Ms James said the housing maintenance allowance, which has been frozen for years until the turn of the financial year in April, has been the main barrier.

She vowed to continue pushing the UK Government to say as soon as possible whether it is a one-off or if it will be uplifted next year in line with inflation.

“I think it’s pretty awful that they haven’t said so,” she told the meeting on April 24.