9 in 10 private renters missing out on a social home

Posted 05 Nov 2019

More than 9 in 10 private renters (91%) who need a social home are unable to get one and are left on waiting lists, often for years on end, new research by Shelter reveals.

The charity’s analysis of the latest government data shows there were nearly 500,000 privately renting households on council waiting lists last year, but fewer than 43,000 private renters moved into a social rent home during that same period.

And worryingly, the true scale of need among private renters is probably far greater than these figures suggest. Since 2011, councils have been able to decide the eligibility criteria for their own waiting lists with many insisting people must have a long-standing connection to the local area to qualify, meaning thousands cannot even get on the list in the first place.

The problem stems from decades of failure to build new social homes – just 6,434 social rent homes were delivered last year, but 21,500 were lost through sales, conversions, and demolitions. Consequently, people have become effectively trapped in expensive private renting.

Shelter has also explored the day-to-day impacts of not being able to access a genuinely affordable social home. A YouGov study for Shelter shows that 21% of private renters (1.8 million people) are constantly struggling or falling behind with their rent. Children and families are not immune. Some of the extreme lengths parents are going to in order to keep on top of housing costs, include:

  • 24% cutting back on food (equivalent to over 600,000 parents)

  • 18% cutting back on heating their home (equivalent to more than 450,000 parents)

  • 14% skipping meals completely (equivalent to 350,000 parents)

These desperate measures are hardly surprising when official statistics show private renters shell out on average 41% of their income on rent – making it more expensive than any other type of housing.

With a general election just around the corner, Shelter is making a fresh call for every political party to invest in the new social housing this country desperately needs. This means a commitment to deliver at least 90,000 social homes a year over the course of the next parliament to ensure everyone has a stable home they can afford to live in.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “When 9 in 10 private renters who need a social home aren’t getting one, alarm bells should be ringing. But when this means parents are forced to skip meals just to pay their rent then clearly, we need to take action now.

“Decades of failure to build social housing has created a nightmare scenario with people trapped in private renting all over the country. On top of living on the breadline, far too many are facing the threat of eviction or battling poor conditions.

“To save struggling renters from a lifetime of instability, social housing must be at the heart of every party’s manifesto during the election. We are calling on all parties to commit to delivering at least 90,000 social rent homes a year over the next parliament, to give everyone in this country a fighting chance of a stable home.”

Case study: Kim, 35, lives in the South West with her three children – Sasha (15) who is disabled, Joshua (10) and George (3). They are currently struggling in expensive and insecure private renting after being stuck on different social housing waiting lists for more than a decade.

Kim said: “My daughter Sasha is severely disabled, and the council says there are no social homes available that meet our needs, so our only option is to stay on the list, carry on renting privately and hope against the odds that something becomes free. Being stuck in private renting is a nightmare for my family. Last year, we were living a bungalow but were evicted when the landlord needed to sell. Knowing that could easily happen again is terrifying. Sasha has lived in 14 different houses during her lifetime, and we haven’t had a house that feels like a home for years.

“On top of all the insecurity, renting privately is a massive financial drain. Obviously rent always comes first, but then my children miss out. Sometimes, I have to spend the money meant for Sasha’s therapies on paying rent, we’ve had to cut back on food and days trips are out of the question. What I’d really love is a home I can afford and suits Sasha’s needs, and somewhere my children can finally feel settled.”

Kim with her three children - George, Sasha and Joshua. They are currently struggling in expensive and insecure private renting after being stuck on different social housing waiting lists for more than a decade.

Left to right: George, Kim, Sasha and Joshua

Caption: Alexandra Smart for Shelter

Notes to editors:

Table 1: Chance of a social rent home for private renters on council waiting lists – by region

RegionEstimated private renters on waiting lists 2018New social rent lettings to private rentersChance of a social�rent�home for private renters
England468,08042,8699%
East of England42,7113,0377%
East Midlands27,6393,79314%
London95,8101,7952%
North East21,6314,34920%
North West81,5107,4469%
South East51,9433,6397%
South West39,2733,5039%
West Midlands39,4965,26513%
Yorkshire and the Humber59,7696,41211%

Notes to editors:

  • Full results and methodology available on request.

  • The numbers of households on social housing waiting lists are from MHCLG, Live tables on rents, lettings and tenancies, Table 600. The Localism Act 2011 gave local authorities much greater freedom to decide who should qualify to go on the waiting list for social housing in their area. Statutory guidance encourages local authorities to include a residency test requiring applicants to have lived in the area for at least two years.

The numbers of households on social housing waiting lists are from MHCLG, Live tables on rents, lettings and tenancies, Table 600. The Localism Act 2011 gave local authorities much greater freedom to decide who should qualify to go on the waiting list for social housing in their area. Statutory guidance encourages local authorities to include a residency test requiring applicants to have lived in the area for at least two years.

  • The proportion of private renting households on social housing waiting lists is from the English Housing Survey 2017/18, Private Rented Sector Report, Annex Table 3.14. The analysis applies this proportion to the total number of households on the waiting list to estimate the number of privately renting households in need of a social home in each region.

The proportion of private renting households on social housing waiting lists is from the English Housing Survey 2017/18, Private Rented Sector Report, Annex Table 3.14. The analysis applies this proportion to the total number of households on the waiting list to estimate the number of privately renting households in need of a social home in each region.

  • The number of new social rent lettings to private renters in each area is from Social housing lettings in England, 2017/18: Continuous Recording (CORE) data, Local Authority level tables, Housing situation immediately before letting: Private sector tenancy. As this includes a comprehensive code list, a high proportion of lettings with previous tenure categorised as ‘other’ signals a potential data quality issue. Due to concerns over data quality, eight local authorities were excluded from the regional-level analysis. A further three local authorities were excluded from the analysis because they do not maintain a social housing waiting list.

The number of new social rent lettings to private renters in each area is from Social housing lettings in England, 2017/18: Continuous Recording (CORE) data, Local Authority level tables, Housing situation immediately before letting: Private sector tenancy. As this includes a comprehensive code list, a high proportion of lettings with previous tenure categorised as ‘other’ signals a potential data quality issue. Due to concerns over data quality, eight local authorities were excluded from the regional-level analysis. A further three local authorities were excluded from the analysis because they do not maintain a social housing waiting list.

  • The loss of social housing is calculated by comparing social rented stock figures in the Local Authority Housing Statistics data return 2017/18 for council-owned stock, and the Statistical Data Return 2017/18 for Private Registered Provider-owned stock, with the stock figures for 2016/17.

The loss of social housing is calculated by comparing social rented stock figures in the Local Authority Housing Statistics data return 2017/18 for council-owned stock, and the Statistical Data Return 2017/18 for Private Registered Provider-owned stock, with the stock figures for 2016/17.

  • The proportion of income private renters spend on rent is from the English Housing Survey 2017/18, Private Rented Sector Report, Annex Table 2.3, result used is HRP and partners income including benefits.

The proportion of income private renters spend on rent is from the English Housing Survey 2017/18, Private Rented Sector Report, Annex Table 2.3, result used is HRP and partners income including benefits.

  • Survey results are from a YouGov survey of 3,995 private renters in England, 1,081 of whom were parents of dependent children, online, weighted to be representative of all private renters in England using official statistics provided by Shelter, Aug-Sept 2019. The questions used for this release were: Some people can easily afford to pay their main outgoings, others find it more difficult to pay. Thinking about your situation, how easy or difficult is it for you to pay your rent? and Which, if any, of the following have you sacrificed/ done in order to enable you to keep up with any rental payments over the last year (i.e. since August 2018)? (Please select all that apply), for which results are shown for Cut back on food for myself/ partner, I/ my partner have skipped meals and I/ we have cut back on heating my/ our home.

Survey results are from a YouGov survey of 3,995 private renters in England, 1,081 of whom were parents of dependent children, online, weighted to be representative of all private renters in England using official statistics provided by Shelter, Aug-Sept 2019. The questions used for this release were: Some people can easily afford to pay their main outgoings, others find it more difficult to pay. Thinking about your situation, how easy or difficult is it for you to pay your rent? and Which, if any, of the following have you sacrificed/ done in order to enable you to keep up with any rental payments over the last year (i.e. since August 2018)? (Please select all that apply), for which results are shown for Cut back on food for myself/ partner, I/ my partner have skipped meals and I/ we have cut back on heating my/ our home.

  • Equivalent number of people/ parents from the survey results are calculated by Shelter using the YouGov Survey results in conjunction with official statistics on the numbers of private renters and parents renting privately.

Equivalent number of people/ parents from the survey results are calculated by Shelter using the YouGov Survey results in conjunction with official statistics on the numbers of private renters and parents renting privately.

  • The data on time spent on social housing waiting lists published by MHCLG. It is available here:  (Annex Table 2.11). 49% of people on the list had been waiting for two or more years in 2015/16

The data on time spent on social housing waiting lists published by MHCLG. It is available here:  (Annex Table 2.11). 49% of people on the list had been waiting for two or more years in 2015/16