Why low supply of homes puts renters at risk

Figures have been shared with Generation Rent by the classifieds platform Gumtree showing that over the last 12 months, adverts for properties to rent received an average of 18 replies.

There are two important takeaways from these figures:

  1. There are simply not enough available homes for private renters to live in.
  2. They demonstrate the growing role and responsibility that websites have in making sure that renters can find safe and secure homes online.

The wider picture around availability of rented homes

These figures come amidst record homelessness levels in England. Government figures show that 109,000 households in England – including 142,000 children – were in emergency housing between June and September, up 10% on the same period the previous year.

An estimated 3,898 people slept rough in 2023, an annual increase of 27%. This is more than double (220%) the number of people recorded as sleeping rough in 2010, when records began.

The loss of council housing combined with the spiralling cost of homeownership have meant that renting privately is the only option for many – with the private rental market doubling in the last 20 years.

But rents are higher than ever and with Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions still in place, despite a government promise to end them five years ago, people are being priced out of rented homes and evicted from their homes at unprecedented levels.

The importance of online safety measures

In the past, when looking for a new home to rent, you would pop by your local lettings agent and enquire about a property. You can certainly still do this, but nowadays it’s much more common to scour the internet for your next home and there are plenty of places to go to find listings and adverts online.

This is a very convenient way of finding somewhere to rent, however it does come with risks, with scammers often targeting people online.

Given the increasing desperation that some people face in finding a home to rent, it is more important than ever that websites target scam adverts and accounts looking to capitalise on this situation and exploit renters for their hard-earned cash.

The good news is that when websites take a proactive approach in targeting scammers and criminal behaviour it has real impacts for renters.

Case Study: Gumtree told us…

Gumtree’s latest Transparency Report (published February 2024) revealed illegal activity on the platform to be at an all-time low. Over 99% of the 24 million listings posted in 2023 were without issue and just 0.02% were reported for fraudulent or bad practice.

The platform achieved this by transforming its online safety infrastructure, reinforcing positive user behaviour, investing in additional resources, and working with external partners to target fraudulent and illegal activity.

In 2023, 51,090 listings for flats and houses were removed by Gumtree’s Trust and Safety team.

The average response time to investigate any listing or reply reported to Gumtree is 2.5 hours and all listings are reviewed by their specialist human moderation team within 4 hours.

Case Study: A Zoopla spokesperson said…

Content warning: Sexual offences

The property listings website Zoopla became aware of a ‘Sex for Rent’ case on their website. No reference to ‘Sex for Rent’ was made on Zoopla’s systems but a prospective tenant alerted Zoopla to the issue following their direct contact with the landlord. Zoopla has strict onboarding requirements and systems in place to monitor listing content.

‘Sex for Rent’ is where a landlord or letting agent offers free or discounted accommodation in exchange for sexual acts. It is a crime in the UK. To read more about our work at Generation Rent to tackle ‘Sex for Rent’ follow this link.

Zoopla’s dedicated compliance team promptly took action suspending the relevant listings and conducting a full investigation of the matter. The relevant estate agency was provided with all the support and advice they needed to deal with the situation and minimise the risk of this recurring. Zoopla also offered their full support to the police in dealing with this matter.

End of content warning

What needs to be done?

Already measures are being put into place to improve renters’ safety online, and we will continue to encourage website providers to introduce robust policies. Alongside individual companies and websites updating and improving their moderation of harmful and illegal content, changes to the law such as the 2023 Online Safety Bill are working to improve internet safety.

Specifically, after a concerted Generation Rent campaign, the government agreed to include the targeting of ‘Sex for Rent’ adverts in the Online Safety Bill, meaning that these predatory and exploitative ads will be prevented from being posted to websites.

But the sheer volume of people in need of homes, compared to the number of affordable homes available, mean that renters will remain vulnerable to scams, fraud, and exploitation.

So, the government needs to:

  1. Build more affordable and social homes in places that people want to live in.
  2. Introduce a register of private landlords that can be accessed by tenants and potential tenants to make informed decisions about the legitimacy and behaviour of a landlord. A property portal will be introduced in England if the Renters (Reform) Bill, currently passing through Parliament, becomes law.
  3. Provide proper support for low-income renters by raising Local Housing Allowance, scrapping the benefits cap, and increasing Discretionary Housing Payments funding to local authorities.

Read more about how to protect yourself from being scammed as a renter here.

Are you a renter who is struggling to find an affordable home? Tell us your story here.


Looking for some help and can't find the answer ?

Let us know using the form below, and we’ll try to find out

Individual Advice

Generation Rent can’t offer advice about individual problems. Here are a few organisations that can:

You might also find quick but informal help on ACORN’s Facebook forum, and there are more suggestions on The Renters Guide.