Older private renters face unique challenges

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The UK’s growing number of older private renters face distinct challenges which could worsen the nation’s housing crisis, according to research led by the University of Stirling on behalf of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE).

According to figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2019, the private rented sector in the UK is now comprised of more than 4.5 million households. In the 10 years to April 2018, the proportion of private renters in the 35 to 54-years-old category has almost doubled and now accounts for 41 per cent (up from 23 per cent).

Older renters over 35 are often overlooked when analysis of the private rented sector takes place, yet they endure several distinct issues which do not impact younger people to the same extent.

New research from the Faculty of Social Sciences on behalf of CaCHE, has specifically looked at renters aged 35-54 and their experiences of private renting. The study found that as well as encountering similar issues as younger renters – unaffordable rents, insecure housing, and poor quality properties – older renters also experienced distinct issues, such as the impact on family life, challenges in adapting properties for age-related health and mobility impairments, and being aged out of a mortgage.

The report was co-authored by Dr Kim McKee, University of Stirling, Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita, University of Glasgow, and Professor Moira Munro, University of Glasgow. CaCHE is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Dr McKee, Senior Lecturer and Head of Housing, said: “Much academic and popular attention is paid to so-called ‘Generation Rent’ - the growing number of younger people trapped in the private rented sector. However, much less is known about the experiences of renters over 35, so this research seeks to begin addressing that gap.”

The qualitative research study interviewed private renters from across the UK to learn about their experiences. Many had experienced forced moves, periods of homelessness, discrimination, and poor and illegal practice, highlighting that those issues are not restricted to younger renters. This was especially true amongst lower-income groups.

While younger people encountering a difficult living experience can often think that things will get better, the Beyond Generation Rent report found that many of the over 35 study group felt a sense of hopelessness at their situation.

For families with children, there were another set of challenges, as the study found that some landlords would not allow children to live at their properties. Others found themselves in shared accommodation that was not always an appropriate environment for children to visit or stay in.

Dr McKee added: “While some of our participants retained an element of positivity about the flexibility and benefits offered by private renting, a greater number felt trapped and powerless to transform their situation. The challenges of being able to save enough to exit the sector or even move to a different rented property were clear, and compounded by low wages, insecure work arrangements and the impact of welfare reform.

“Families with children face particular pressures, with many struggling to make a home in the private rented sector because of an inability to personalise the property or keep pets, or from the insecurity of not knowing how long they will be able to stay there and put down roots. This is a key policy issue given the rising number of families with children in the private rented sector.

“Tenants want safe, secure and affordable homes but for some private tenants that is just not within their reach as our report highlights."