The Census shows that the rental market needs to be reformed

Campbell Robb
housing 300x225 The Census shows that the rental market needs to be reformed

(Getty Images)

This month’s Census figures confirm what most of us already know: fewer people are able to own a home of their own these days. In the last 10 years – while we’ve been mesmerised by property programmes and the ups and downs of house prices – home ownership has fallen for the first time since records began in 1951.

Meanwhile, the proportion of homes rented from a landlord has risen by almost 70 per cent. Those who admire the renting culture of continental Europe might argue that this is no bad thing. But in England it means more and more people and families living in insecure, expensive housing that they don’t feel they can call a home.

In today’s property market, the only option for more and more people has become a rented house where a contract forbids us hanging a picture or painting a wall. And while many imagine renting with fond memories of student digs, in 2012 your average renter is more likely to be a family with children – a group which now makes up a third of renters overall.

For these families, renting just doesn’t work. Tenancies of just six or 12 months – the norm in England – can force children on a merry-go-round of bedroom after bedroom and school after school. Renting families are 10 times more likely to have moved home in the last year than families who live in a home they own, with many parents living under the constant threat of eviction. The rental market simply isn’t offering the stable home that children need: a Shelter mystery shopping exercise this year found that only one letting agent out of 34 said that a longer-term tenancy would be possible. For private renters, taking your child to school on their first day is no guarantee that you’ll be living nearby by the summer holidays.

Whether you have children or not, the cost of renting is also becoming increasingly hard to bear. Shelter hears from people on above average incomes who are making choices about whether to cut down on food or heating just so that they can meet their rent each month. If rents had risen in line with inflation over the last decade – rather than well above it – families would have an extra £2,000 of disposable income on average to save or spend each year. The everyday struggle to make ends meet means the possibility of saving for a deposit is more remote than ever. Nearly 60 per cent of people who don’t own a home say they don’t think they’ll ever be able to afford to buy a home in their local area.

So, how do we adjust to the fact that rental Britain is here to stay? In the short term, we have to change the way renting works. Shelter’s Stable Rental Contract would give renters the stability of a five-year tenancy and give landlords more confidence in a steady income. It doesn’t need any changes in the law – just the political will to make it a realistic choice in the rental market. Politicians need to understand that more and more of their voters are renters, who are wondering why their needs are being ignored.

In the long-term, we need to build more good quality affordable homes for people to rent or to buy. What’s clear is that Britain isn’t quite the property owning democracy we think we are: renting is increasingly the new normal. It’s time to confront this new reality and reform rental Britain.

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  • ThreeCheeseFondue

    “The population is not rising exponentially, actually we need more skilled and well educated young people.” That is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not the population is in fact rising exponentially is unrelated to the completely separate issue of whether or not there is a deficit of skilled and well educated young people. But that aside, you ought to take a look at which clearly shows that the rate of increase in the population is increasing. For the five-year period 2006 to 2011 the population increased by a whopping 2.14m. Previous five year periods working backwards: 1.49m, 0.95m, 0.74m, 0.74m, 0.35m, 0.22m (1976 to 1981). So, do you still think that population growth in this country is not a problem? Thirty years ago the population was increasing by 220000 in five years. From 2005 to 2011 the population increased 2.14m in five years. The rate of increase has increased (second derivative) by a factor of TEN in only thirty years. And people are going around saying the solution is to build more houses???? When will you all wake up?

  • VicTheBrit

    Putting back the tenancy guarantees that were removed is a step in the right direction. A majority of rental housing stock is in poor condition with far too many slumlords ripping off people.

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