'Freeze rents not renters': Tower Hamlets LRU protest outside Winkworth estate agents on Roman Road.

Bow renters hold protest against rent increases of up to 70%

With homelessness threatening more residents in the borough, Tower Hamlets London Renters Union stage a day of action on the Roman.

A group in Tower Hamlets which supports renters, the homeless, and those living in temporary accommodation took to the streets of Bow on Saturday 3 December to urge the government to freeze rents this winter.

According to Tower Hamlets London Renters Union (Tower Hamlets LRU) rents in Tower Hamlets have increased by up to 70% in the past year. In addition, it was found that in 2021 just over 50% of Tower Hamlets’ renters’ gross pay went towards rent, double England’s average of 25.5%. In response, the Tower Hamlets LRU staged a protest outside a Winkworth estate agent in Tower Hamlets on 3 December to demand the government introduce a rent freeze to tackle the growing rent crisis.

Sian Smith, communications officer for the Tower Hamlets LRU said that the protest was not a demonstration of anger but a symbolic day of action to spread the word and let people know that the LRU can provide support and advice to those facing rent increases and other housing issues. 

‘Roman Road was really busy on Saturday so it was a great place to hold the protest,’ said Smith: ‘We had cars responding to our sign to ‘honk if your rent is too high’ every thirty seconds and lots of members of the public joined in and came and chatted to us which was the main aim of the day.’ 

The feeling that my future here is not in my hands is quite scary.

Alex Wakefield

Smith explained that Tower Hamlets LRU chose Winkworth because ‘estate agents like Winkworth cause rent hikes by encouraging bidding wars and advising landlords to increase rents.’ In a report compiled by the group in April 2022, it hears anecdotally from renters in the borough that rents have increased by up to 70%. This is in contrast to the just under 20% rent increase across London, according to property website Zoopla.

Smith said the organisation does not have quantitative data on rent increase, only anecdotal evidence, because there is no central registration system tracking data on the borough’s public and private renting sector. ‘Because of that, there is no standard amount or average rent we know about.’

Fairfield Road resident and renter Alex Wakefield, 24, took part in the planned protest. Wakefield is currently on universal credit and said their rent in their Fairfield Road house share is £800 a month. Wakefield’s two flatmates also pay a similar amount. 

Wakefield said that they’d heard of rent increasing in the borough between 50% and 100% in the past year. They called the situation ‘frightening’. 

In an echo of Smith’s words, they and their flatmates had to bid on the house in order to secure it. They are concerned that when the contract comes up for renewal in February 2023, the landlord will increase the rent to such an extent that they will be left homeless. ‘The feeling that my future here is not in my hands is quite scary,’ they said. 

Wakefield said they joined the protest because a rent freeze this winter ‘is the bare minimum the government can do to support renters through the cost of living crisis’. They said that emergency measures have been put in place such as help for households to cope with soaring energy prices, but not for rent. 

They added that there is a lot of ‘anger and resentment’ amongst renters but hoped that such ‘collective action’ could be a force for change. 

The protest was part of wider London protests at six locations across the city on 3 December. 

Tower Hamlets LRU is part of London Renters Union (LRU), a membership organisation representing 6,400 renters across the capital. 

LRU was also involved in campaigning for an eviction ban to be introduced during the first year of the pandemic. 

For more articles like this one, see all of our content about the cost of living crisis

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