RENTS in Scotland’s social rented sector could be capped beyond the initial six-month freeze announced by Nicola Sturgeon, it has emerged.

SNP Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Government was already talking to councils and housing associations about a cap after March next year.

It followed the First Minister including an immediate six-month rent freeze and eviction ban in Tuesday’s Programme for Government for both social rented and private sector tenants.

As rents in the social rented sector aren’t due to rise until April next year, the impact will mainly be felt in the private sector, with landlords pushing back hard against the plan.

Private tenants occupy around 15 per cent of Scotland’s 2.6million homes, while the social rented sector accounts for 23%.

Ms Sturgeon said the move was needed to give security to tenants as they tried to cope with the “humanitarian emergency” of the cost-of-living crisis.

Interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland, Ms Robison denied the Government was trying to grab headlines with a rent freeze that wouldn’t actually affect most tenants.

She said: “These are exceptional measures for exceptional pressures to try and ensure that people can remain living in their home.

“It will apply to both the private and the social rented sector. 

“Of course, you're right to say that the rents of the social rented sector have in the main been set and will be reviewed again on the first of April 2023.

“But we want to work with the social rented sector to discuss what happens after March next year. 

“So we're talking with them and will be talking with him about whether a cap should be applied on social rents and we will be discussing with them what level that cap should be at.

“We thought that it was fair that this applies to both sectors, but both sectors operate in very different ways, and we have to take account of that in taking these measures forward.”

Reacting to landlords complaining the rent freeze was announced without consultation, Ms Robison said that had been done to avoid rents being raised before it came in.

“We were very mindful of not doing anything that would inadvertently drive up rents in advance of any announcement,” she said.

She said that the Government wanted to work with landlords, and that evictions could still take place for antisocial and criminal behaviour.

She said: “We're asking landlords really to play their part, given the emergency situation, by containing rents or existing levels. I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to ask.”

However Brian Gilmour, boss of the independent letting agent Indigo Square, said the policy was “reflective of people who make a decision that grabs the headline who don’t understand the marketplace they are talking about”.

He said: “For me it is just a headline-grabbing statement that is getting private landlords and social landlords to pay for the Government to look good.”

He said landlords faced rising interest rates on mortgages and higher bills for buildings insurance, but were unable to pass on the costs to tenants.

“What about the private landlord who is a retiree and this is part of their pension planning?” he asked.

“What is happening to them about their increasing costs they can’t pass on? They’re not some international conglomerate who can absorb the costs.”

Mr Gilmour said the “nub of the issue” was governments failing to build affordable homes.

“This is the consequence of multiple political parties not appropriately funding the creation of affordable housing,” he said.

“We have 150,000 people roughly on affordable housing waiting lists, averaging over the last five years we have built 5,133 affordable/social houses in Scotland a year.

“The issue here for private rents, they have only gone up for one reason and that is supply and demand. We have a lack of supply and if we have not been building the affordable housing then the private rental sector becomes an essential part of that supply mechanism.”

He added: “If you put obstacles in the way of private landlords you reduce that supply.

“All you are doing if you put obstacles in the way is compounding that problem because, unless you are going to put billions - and I mean multiple billions - into the social rented sector to massively increase the supply on that side, you are always going to need a private rented sector.”

The Scottish Property Federation has also warned the rent freeze could “derail efforts to improve the supply of new, purpose-built homes for rent”, while housing associations fear it will make it harder for Scotland to meet its affordable house building targets.