Older renters struggling with affordability, insecurity, and lack of agency

Apr 10, 2019 1:14 PM

The demographics of renters has changed so much over the last decade that we could now pluralise our name to Generations Rent. We’re very much conscious of the trend of older people privately renting, which will continue for the foreseeable future, so we were pleased to be invited to speak at Age UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on ageing and older people which is holding an inquiry into older people’s housing. This session focused specifically on older tenants in the private rented sector and how housing impacts their physical, mental and social wellbeing. 

Generation Rent’s 2019 survey of private renters has just closed, so we crunched the responses and pulled out some findings specifically relating to older renters to share at the event. We received over a thousand survey responses in total, and 32% of responses were from tenants aged 55 or older, with 17.5% aged 65 or over.

Of our respondents aged over 55, two thirds said they pay more than 30% of their incomes in housing costs, and 18% said that they pay over 60% of their income in housing costs. The internationally accepted definition of housing affordability is paying no more than 30% of income on housing costs, so these figures tell us that rent affordability is a huge issue for older private renters.

Two thirds older respondents hadn’t had a rent rise in the last 12 months, but 28.4% had experienced a rent rise. And shockingly, almost a quarter (24%) of our older renters had needed to borrow money to pay the rent at least once in the last 12 months.

Older renters told us that housing security is also a key concern.  While 54% of respondents had been in their current home for four years or more, 13% had been in their current home less than 12 months.

Just one in five told us they’d been offered and took a tenancy longer than 12 months and took it when setting up their current tenancy, and this figure includes some respondents on assured tenancies which bump that figure up. Despite older renters usually wanting to stay in a property long term, 60% weren’t offered a tenancy longer than 12 months when moving into their current home, with 30.5% saying that they would definitely have taken a longer tenancy if it had been offered.

We didn’t ask directly about Section 21 evictions in the survey, but we did have an open field for people to tell us their good and bad renting experiences. Yet Section 21 evictions, and revenge eviction after asking for repairs were commonly mentioned. Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act allows landlords to evict tenants with just two months’ notice and without providing a reason or compensation. Arthur* from the East Midlands, who has been in his home less than 12 months despite being over 65, said: “Twice I've been evicted at 2 month notice without reason. I've always paid rent on time and never had a complaint from landlords or agents.”

Other issues for older renters which emerged in the survey pointed to a sense of lacking control over their lives and choices. Being unable to have pets was seen as unfair and detrimental to older renters’ health and happiness. Intrusive and unnecessarily regular inspections were mentioned, as was feeling patronised or judged by landlords or agents.

Two think-tanks, the Centre for Social Justice and IPPR, have published reports this year looking at how we can make renting fit for purpose in the 21st century, and both said that we need to give tenants more control over their homes and choices such as pets and redecoration. Both reports recommended getting rid of section 21 and the ability of landlord to evict without providing grounds. Of course at Generation Rent we’re constantly making the point that ending section 21 evictions is absolutely critical to successfully improving private renting in England and Wales. In most countries in Europe, including Scotland, landlords must provide a reason to evict tenants from their homes, and in many they are only able to do so if the tenant is at fault.

Ending section 21 evictions and improved security of tenure is of real importance to older renters, for whom a stable home and community is paramount to their physical, mental and social wellbeing. Secure tenancies, where tenants don’t fear of eviction without a legitimate reason or a rent rise, means being able to ask for repairs and help renters to live in safe homes. In our survey 35% of older renters said that rent rise caps would give them more confidence to ask for repairs with fearing eviction.

Having a stable home also means being able to keep the same doctor and access to the same healthcare services – important for older people for whom continuity in services can make a real difference to health and longevity.  A secure home means having your support network around you, neighbours, friends, family, and community.

Generation Rent is working with dozens of local authorities across the country who are concerned about how Section 21 evictions are eroding their communities. In areas with very high proportions of private renters on insecure tenancies, the inability of tenants to put down roots is a real problem. Younger generations, trapped privately renting in huge numbers, are often transient through the area through no choice of their own. And tenants who don’t know how long they can stay in their home struggle to invest in and participate in their community, get to know their neighbours, build local links, volunteer, or check in on and support older people locally. Older and younger tenants alike end up being pushed further and further away from friends and relatives. Our society has real challenges in the number of people struggling with isolation, loneliness, and poor mental health, and giving people real security in their homes has the potential to really boost individual wellbeing and community cohesion.  Councils are very much aware of these tensions in their communities and that’s why they’re backing the call to get rid of section 21 evictions, while reforming section 8 to protect landlords.   

Ending section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions will help drive up housing conditions, help address affordability, and give private renters a sense of security and control over their homes, lives, and communities. This is important for everyone, but is particularly needed to boost the wellbeing of our older private renters.

Want to help us end section 21 evictions? Across the country, 13 local authorities have backed the campaign to end Section 21 evictions and more are in the process of doing so. Will you ask your council to support the campaign? Get in touch with Georgie [email protected] and we can provide you with resources to discuss this with your Councillor and a draft motion for councils.

*Name changed