Housing problems for private renters do not stop at affordability: quality and security are also crucial
The growing number of private renters in poverty has been one of the biggest poverty changes in recent years. This poses challenges not just in terms of affordability, but quality and security too.
One of the biggest shifts that we have seen in poverty over the last decade has been an almost doubling in the number of private renters in poverty. Meanwhile the number of social renters and owner-occupiers in poverty has fallen.
The graph below compares the number of people in poverty living in rented accommodation in 2002/03 and 2012/13. It shows that the number of social renters in poverty has fallen, but this has only been for workless families and pensioners. Meanwhile the number of private renters in poverty has risen particularly among those in working families. This is typical of the patterns uncovered in our latest Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report published this week: falling pensioner poverty, rising in-work poverty, and rising poverty in the private rented sector.
This shifting mix of poverty across tenure types changes the nature of poverty and brings a new set of problems. The most obvious way that the private rented sector stands out is the higher cost of housing (Indicator 3B of Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2014). Typically a private renter will spend around 31% of their post-tax income on housing costs compared to 15% for owners with a mortgage and 19% of social renters. For the poorest fifth of private renters this rises to 55%. With a growing number of people in poverty having to pay market level rents, the size of these rental costs become a major issue.
But the housing problems for private renters do not stop at affordability: quality and security are also crucial. As indicator 14 of our report shows, private renters, particularly those in poverty, are more likely to live in a home that is non-decent or has damp problems. There has also been an increase in the number of private rented tenancies ending in repossessions and homelessness.14,000 households became homeless when their tenancy agreement was terminated in 2013/14, double the number 5 years earlier (Indicator 18B) while the number of private landlord repossessions has grown from 10,000 to 17,000 in the same period (Indicator 17A).
And this has consequences for the state too. As more people live in the private rented sector that cannot afford to, the government supports them through housing benefit. Likewise the growing number of repossessions has implications in terms of court costs and the incredibly high costs of temporary accommodation.
The response of the current government has been focused on reducing the housing benefit bill by lowering the entitlement of private renters and capping its increase. It is not yet clear that this has had the desired affected of slowing down the rise in rents. But no policies have been offered that deal with the problems of insecurity and quality of the private rented sector, nor have they puts the onus on anyone but the individual tenant.
Regardless of income or tenure, people should have a ‘home’ and not just somewhere to live. This means a property in adequate condition, at a predictable and affordable cost for the long term. More attention should be given to tacking these problems of quality and security along with affordability. And the responsibility for these problems should not just lie with the state and the tenant, but should include the landlord as well.
This blog first appeared on the Guardian Housing Network on 26 November 2014.