Today, the Citizens Advice released a report, A Nation of Renters, which explores the doubling of the private rented sector over the past decade and its failure to adapt to the needs of renters.
The report notes that renting is “no longer a stopgap for the young”: while the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds renting has more than doubled over the decade, there are also 1 million more 35-54 year olds now renting privately. Crucially, the most common household type in the private rented sector is now couples with children. Yet, renting privately is still very insecure with 6 to 12 months being the standard for rental contracts. The report found a third (34 per cent) of private renters have lived in their current home for less than a year and two thirds for less than three years (67 per cent). Moving around with children can be extremely disruptive for them, especially when families cannot continue to rent in the same area and children are forced to move schools so they not only change home but also social and community groups.
Overwhelmingly the worst finding is that a third of privately rented properties are officially ‘non-decent’ by Government standards and that 16% are actually physically unsafe, with half a million children are living in such houses. We have heard of renters, such as Molly*, who contract leptospirosis from a rat infestation that her landlord hid from her until she had signed the tenancy, resulting in a 6 day hospitalisation. These homes are failing the legal minimum standards for housing and yet are still able to be rented out: their owners are earning £5.6bn per year, with £1.3bn of that from the taxpayer in housing benefit.
And to add insult to injury, private renters pay more than those in other tenures, despite getting worse quality accommodation. The report found that, on average, private renters spend over a third of their income on housing costs. It makes it impossible to save when the cost of renting is so high: it therefore is unsurprising that the majority (65%) of renters have less than £1,500 in savings. This means the typical private renter is less than one twentieth of their way towards saving a deposit for the average priced first home. Interestingly though, Citizens Advice found that 61% of renters still said they expect to buy a home in the future.
It will also not come as a surprise that as rents rocket, housing benefit is being used increasingly to pick up the strain. The number of private renting households that work and receive housing benefit has increase from 1 in 10 to 1 in 7 over the last four years – which is push more by rising rents than low wages.
It is outrageous that landlords are getting away with this – the state does not pay for unsafe homes in the social housing sector on the basis that it won’t pay for people to live in homes that pose a risk to their life and it should not be doing so in the private rented sector.
Even if you’ve saved up a deposit, making that leap into home ownership comes with a cost. The report found that home owners who are relatively recent buyers (in the last 5 years) actually face higher housing costs than private renters – although this is mainly at the top of the market. The costs of home ownership reduce over time but renters who do manage to purchase their first home will be likely to see their housing costs rise initially.
What renters need is a strong plan of action from the new Government, including better security of tenure and stronger enforcement against landlords who neglect their properties. We also need to stop letting criminal landlords receive subsidies and use taxpayer money to build more social housing instead.
*Names have been changed for anonymity