The cost of private renting

the affordability barrierRents continue to soar year on year, leaving many private renters struggling at the end of the month.

In 1 in 4 areas, rents rose by an average of £300 in 2012.

These increases are made worse by their unpredictable nature; renters often have little or no idea what rent rises they may face, or when.

For households struggling to get by on low incomes, an unexpected rent increase can be the final straw that pushes them into arrears, debt, and even potentially homelessness.

Shelter believes urgent action is needed to help renters find an affordable place to live – and to prevent those struggling with their rent from losing their homes.  

Problems faced by renters

Rental costs for many are already at crisis point. Shelter’s analysis has shown that:

  • Rents have risen twice as fast as wages over the last decade.
  • Median rents are unaffordable in almost half of English local authority areas. 
  • Support for renters on low incomes is increasingly out of step with the level of rent.

This causes serious problems for all kinds of renters.

Families are left to worry about whether they can afford to stay in their local community, where their children go to school. Employees don’t know if they’ll be able to stay within commutable distance of work. And many are left uncertain if they can live near the support networks they may rely on.

 

 

As well as struggling to pay the rent, private renters also have to deal with a range of additional costs every time they move. Hefty deposits, reference checks, inventory costs and check-out fees are just a few examples.

With only short-term contracts available to most, renters may find themselves forced to move regularly – meaning they have to find the money for these payments far too often.  

Unable to save up enough money to move on, many renters remain trapped in terrible properties, unsuitable for them and their families. Others might be prevented from finding a home in the first place, potentially ending in homelessness. 

Problems faced by people on benefits

For private renters on housing benefit or local housing allowance, much of the accommodation in the private rented sector is simply unaffordable.   

Despite Government reforms to benefits – like the introduction of Universal Credit – there’s still a substantial gap between local housing allowance and the cost of rent. Nearly half of private renters face a regular financial shortfall, averaging nearly £100 a month.

The impact of this on families struggling to pay the bills is huge. Some private renters whose benefits don't cover the rent regularly go without meals to keep a roof over their heads.   

This situation is particularly difficult for young single people under the age of 35. Government rules mean they’re only awarded enough housing benefit to cover the cost of a single room in accommodation with shared facilities.

To make matters worse, many young people find this kind of accommodation isn’t easily accessible – leaving them with a stark choice between homelessness or paying for rent shortfalls out of very low incomes.

With many housing benefit claimants already struggling financially, continued cuts to housing benefit over 2013 are likely to push people over the edge. This could trigger a cycle of rent arrears, eviction and homelessness.

Many households will also be forced to move, often into overcrowded or sub-standard accommodation that’s potentially miles away from their local communities.     

Shelter's response

The private rented sector urgently needs to become a more affordable, stable housing option for households and families on low incomes.

The long-term solution to the problem is to build more homes, but in the meantime Shelter calls on the Government to:

  • Encourage landlords and letting agents to adopt the Stable Rental Contract, lasting up to five years, instead of the standard rental contract of 6-12 months. This would give private renters more stability, with advance warning of exactly how big a rent increase is likely to be.
  • Review the relationship between housing benefit and actual rents to ensure private renters can access an adequate range of affordable homes.
  • Encourage all councils to offer deposit guarantee schemes, to help private tenants unable to afford a deposit of their own.

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