English Housing Survey shows things are bad for renters – is anyone surprised anymore?

As government decides whether it should make cuts to the English Housing Survey, the latest report out today shows a growing private rented sector that continues to fail those who live in it.

The report lays out the headline figures as follows:

  • The size of the PRS is only going in one direction. The private rented sector has grown from to 19% of all households (up from 18%), larger than the social housing sector and amounting to 4.4 million households;
  • Young people are increasingly unable to get on the property ladder. For 25-34 year olds, private renting continues to grow, up from 21% to 48% of that age group in the years 2004-2014. Within that same time period, owner occupation has dropped in that demographic from 59% to 36%.
  • More people in work need help with their private rents. Between 2009 and 2014, working households claiming housing benefit in the PRS rose from 7-14%.
  • The stock in the PRS continues to be worse than in other tenures. Privately rented homes tended to be older properties which are more prone to damp: 8% of PRS properties have a damp problem, as opposed to 5% of social rents and 3% of homeowners.
  • Fire safety is still worst in the PRS. 82% of privately rented homes had a smoke alarm, lower than both the social sector (94%) and homeowners (88%).
  • The London PRS is huge and expensive. Private rents now account for 30% of homes in the capital, the same proportion as the mortgage sector. Rents are much higher than in the rest of the country. In 2013-14, average weekly private rents were £281 in London and £145 outside of London.

We have to look at other tenures though to see how the housing crisis has affected the living situations of the population. With social housing remaining steady at 17% of all households, we have to ask whether there is not an urgent need for more social homes to meet the needs of people who cannot get into homeownership and see private rents continuing to grow. This is further underlined when the figures show that the mean social rent is £94 as opposed to £176 in the PRS.

From 2004-2014, households with children in the PRS increased in both proportion and number from 29% to 36%. Can a tenure where it is remains so easy to evict tenants with only two months’ notice, and which cannot guarantee someone can afford to live in the same area year after year, really be sustainable?

The survey shows that private renters move more often – in 2013-14, 67% of private tenants had been in their home less than three years, with 35% resident for less than a year. Figures also show that those moving more often paid higher rents.

With a General Election looming, the latest figures from the English Housing Survey have to be (another) wake-up call for politicians. The private rented population is growing, but without stability and with increasing rents, adding to the housing benefit bill. People cannot access social housing nor do they think buying is a realistic short-term option; while 61% of private renters expect to buy at some point, 44% did not expect to for at least five years.

In that time, renters can expect to see their housing costs go up while more are living in poor conditions that in other tenures (30% of the PRS does not meet the Decent Homes Standard, compared to 15% of social home and 19% of owner-occupiers).

Surely a new parliament has to look again at its policy for the private rented sector and think about how it can radically reform affordability, security and conditions for those tenants? To not do so would condemn millions of people to a worsening quality of life and with the knowledge that the political class have abandoned them.

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