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Health of one in five renters harmed by their home

Posted 13 Oct 2021

Shelter warns worsening housing crisis is making millions of people sick.

The health of one in five renters (22%) in England – or 1.9 million households - is being harmed by poor housing, stark new research from Shelter shows today.

The charity’s YouGov poll reveals the most common problems plaguing renters’ mental and physical health. They include damp and mould, which affects 26% of all renters; being unable to heat their home (also affects 26%); constantly struggling to pay rent (21%) and fear of eviction (19%). Renters experiencing any one of these issues are three times more likely than renters without these issues to say their current housing situation is harming their health.

In a separate poll of private renters only, Shelter delved deeper into the impact of housing problems on peoples’ health since the start of the pandemic:

  • 39% said their housing problems or worries left them feeling stressed and anxious

  • 22% said their housing issues or worries made them physically sick

  • 21% said their housing issues had negatively affected their performance at work.

The findings come as renters are set to head into another challenging winter with soaring fuel costs, the £20 cut to Universal Credit and shorter notice periods for private renters all taking effect. 44% of the people who turned to Shelter’s services for help last year said they were struggling to cope on a daily basis, which points to the intense pressure renters are under.

Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate said: “The cost of poor housing is spilling out into overwhelmed GP surgeries, mental health services, and hours lost from work. The new Housing Secretary must get a grip on the housing crisis and tackle a major cause of ill health.

“Listening to the calls flooding into our helpline there is no doubt that health and housing go hand in hand. Yet, millions of renters are living in homes that make them sick because they are mouldy, cold, unaffordable and grossly insecure. The stress and suffering that comes with not knowing if you can pay your rent from month to month, or if you will face eviction is huge.

“The government can ease the pressure on renters’ health now by providing targeted grants to clear rent arrears built up during the pandemic, and by making good on its promise to reform private renting. But ultimately the housing crisis will never be cured until we build the decent social homes that more people need to live a healthy life.”

CASE STUDY: Less than a week ago, Krystalrose (27) and her young daughter were evicted from their privately rented one-bed flat in London. Her landlord used a Section 21 eviction, which means they did not have to give a reason and Krystalrose was forced to move out through no fault of her own. Trying to find somewhere else to live was extremely difficult because she receives Universal Credit and landlords did not want to let to her. As the family were about to become homeless, the local council helped to find Kyrstalrose and her daughter another private rental, which she accepted without even seeing the property.

Krystalrose said: “I tried to make the last place we lived in a home, but I was living on the edge the whole time. The mould ruined my daughter’s cot and we both became ill because of it. While I’m glad we’re out of there, it was stressful being evicted – we did nothing wrong.

“Most landlords don’t accept people on Universal Credit, so it was hard to find another home. I thought we’re going to be out on the streets. It’s made me really depressed and anxious, I’m on antidepressants because of how stressed I’ve been.

“I’m lucky the council helped us find a new home. But I’m scared we might have the same problems again. All I want is a home where we can feel safe and comfortable – a feeling my daughter has never known since she was born. There needs to be more safe and affordable homes for families like mine so our children can live their best lives.”

Vicki Nash, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs at Mind, said: "Shelter’s worrying report shows the impact poor and unstable housing has on our mental health. Everyone deserves a safe, affordable, stable, and suitable place to live, not somewhere which makes us feel ‘hopeless’, and worsens our mental health. Social issues such as jobs, housing and benefits play a huge role in the nation’s mental health. Addressing the underlying causes of poor mental health can prevent people being pushed into poverty, allow people to live independently, and reduce the need for more intensive support further down the line.

“Never has this been more important, the pandemic has intensified our mental health crisis, with 1.6 million people waiting for mental health support or treatment. If the UK Government are serious about ‘levelling up’ and reducing inequality they must sort out the housing crisis, reverse the £20 cut to Universal Credit and increase the rate paid for other disability benefits.”

Anyone who is struggling with poor conditions or is worried about losing their home can contact Shelter for free and expert advice through its emergency helpline, webchat service or dedicated housing advice webpages. To get started, visit


Notes to editors:

  • The number of households who say ‘their housing situation is harming their health’ is taken from a nationally representative survey of 13,268 adults, of which, 3,197 are renting adults (18+) in England living in private and social rented homes. The survey asked questions around the circumstances of peoples’ housing situations, alongside mental and physical health questions. It was carried out online by YouGov on behalf of Shelter between 6-14 April 2021.

  • Broken down, 19% of renters say their housing situation harms their or their family’s mental health, and 11% say theirs or their family’s physical health is suffering. When combined, we see that 22% of renters said their physical and/ or mental health was affected.

  • Based on the 2019/20 English Housing Survey there are 8.4 million renting households in England; therefore 22% is equal to 1.9 million households with health impacts from their housing.

  • Where quoted, the number of adults in social and private rented housing has been calculated by Shelter based on the English Housing Survey 2019-2020 published by MHCLG and estimates of the average number of adults per household. See table:

Housing issues affecting renter's health

Housing issues% of private renting adults affectedEstimated number of renting adults affected
My home has a significant mould, condensation or damp problems26%3.8 million
I cannot keep my home warm in winter26%3.8 million
I/we regularly have to cut spending on household essentials like food or heating to pay the rent/ mortgage payments on my home21%3 million
I worry that I might lose/ be asked to leave the home I am currently living in (e.g. through eviction or repossession, or being forced out at short notice, etc.)19%2.8 million
  • Shelter also compared the health responses of those with or without specific issues in their home. As can be seen from the table below, for each individual issue, the proportion of renters that agreed ‘my current housing situation harms my/my family’s physical and/or mental health’ is three times greater for those with a specific housing issues, when compared with those who do not have the specific housing issue. See table:

The health impacts of housing issues

The health impacts of housing issuesat least one issue with physical or mental health impacts from the home (%)
Mould - No issue present14%
Mould - Yes, issue present46%
Thermal efficiency - No issue present15%
Thermal efficiency - Yes, issue present44%
Cutting back to pay housing - No issue present15%
Cutting back to pay housing - Yes, issue present48%
Being asked to leave/security of tenure - No issue present16%
Being asked to leave/security of tenure - Yes, issue present50%
  • A further YouGov survey explores the impact of housing problems on the health of private renters only e.g. how many feel anxious, physically sick or their performance at work is affected. These percentages, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. Total sample size was 3,561 adults (18+) who live in private rented accommodation in England. Fieldwork was carried out online between 6 August - 7 September. Numbers of private renting adults have been calculated by Shelter using data from the English Housing Survey 2019-2020 published by MHCLG. See table below:

Health impact of housing problems or worries on private renting adults in England

Health impact of housing problems or worries on private renting adults in England% of private renting adults affectedEstimated number of private renting adults affected
Left feeling stressed and anxious (since March 2020/since the start of the pandemic)39%3.2 million
Made them physically ill/ sick (since March 2020/since the start of the pandemic)22%1.8 million
Performance at work negatively affected / my ability to get work negatively affected (since March 2020/since the start of the pandemic)21%1.7 million
  • The percentage of people coming to Shelter’s services who said ‘they cannot cope on a daily basis’ is taken from responses to Shelter’s annual Outcomes Survey. The Outcomes Survey is a quantitative telephone survey carried out with approximately 2,000 clients from England by research agency BMG Research. The interviews were conducted in 2020-2021 at least three months after a client case was closed, and no more than a year after a case was closed. Each client represents a household, which can contain multiple occupants. The sample is broadly representative of Shelter’s total client population and is weighted based on the type of service received and broad geographical regions. People who have used the webchat or online advice pages are excluded from the Survey.

About Shelter: Shelter exists to defend the right to a safe home and fight the devastating impact the housing emergency has on people and society. Shelter believes that home is everything. Learn more at

About Mind: We’re Mind, the mental health charity. We provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. We campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. We won't give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect. Learn more at .

Mind has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am - 6pm, Monday – Friday). For information and support on staying mentally healthy at this time, visit