The chief executive of Shelter on the charity’s latest research.
For many millennials there are few things less romantic to consider on Valentine’s Day than a lifetime of expensive renting.
It shouldn’t be this way, of course – but for far too many people, our private rented sector represents an unstable, insecure and expensive way to live.
Our research out today shows that 39 per cent of millennial private renters (aged 25 – 34) are putting off having a child or growing their family because they are currently renting.
That is a genuinely heart-breaking figure, because for many couples they have no choice. Home ownership is fast-becoming a pipe dream for most young people. House prices are as sky high. Even for those lucky enough to have saved a deposit, many can't even get on the housing ladder with Help to Buy.
This wouldn’t be a problem if our private rented sector were fit for families to live in, as it is across much of Europe today. But renting in England is just not up to scratch.
We have some of the shortest, least secure contracts. We found that private tenants have stronger legal power to choose whether to stay or leave their home in the majority of the European countries we studied in 2016.
This situation leaves some private renters with little security to plan ahead in life. If you’re a young couple thinking about having kids, it’s understandable that you’d put this massive life decision off if you didn’t know how much you’d be paying in rent nine months from now.
Beyond this chronic lack of stability, private renters often just don’t have they rights they need stick up for themselves if they are having problems with their landlord and feel they are being treated unfairly. This should really be a bare minimum in this country: the right to feel safe and secure in your home shouldn’t be seen as some kind of luxury.
Lastly, but most importantly, renting is just far too expensive for many people. Renters spend more on average than home owners on their housing cost.
In London, on average renters spend more than half of their income on rent.
For some people this means they can’t save for a deposit to buy a home and escape this situation. But for those at the very sharp end of the situation, it can mean homelessness as they find themselves squeezed out of their rented home and with nowhere else to go. In fact, losing your tenancy and not being able to find a new one is the main driver of homelessness in the UK.
With all of these serious issues piling up, it’s not hard to see why renters often don’t feel the government are on their side. We have to get on and fix this. After all, the number of renters is rising so the government can’t shy away from the problem. The ban on letting fees was very welcome – but that has to be the first of a series of fixes to our renting crisis, not the last.
Here’s what we need to do. Firstly, we need to give private renters much stronger rights so they can feel empowered to fight their landlord if they have to.
Secondly, renters should be given the option of longer tenancies as a norm so they don’t have to hop between homes, incurring the costs as they go. Instead, they can feel assured that their rented home is theirs for years, not months.
And we need to build tens of thousands more genuinely affordable homes to rent. Our housebuilding system has been stuck in second gear for decades now – and has focused on delivering more expensive homes rather than the genuinely affordable ones we really need.
If we’re going to give people somewhere to live and make renting fit for families, these ideas really have to become a reality soon.
Polly Neate is chief executive of Shelter.