Middle aged renters are struggling with dodgy landlords too – and their numbers are growing

Home sweet home. Image: Getty.

There are now more than 4.5m households living in the private rented sector across the UK – that’s more than doubled since the previous decade. The challenges of navigating this expensive and insecure housing market have fallen mainly on young people. In 2017, 35 per cent of renters in the private sector were aged between 25 and 34.

Much attention has been given to the plight of millennials – aka “generation rent” – who research indicates are much less likely to own their own home than previous generations. Yet the number of older renters is also increasing – and much less is known about their experiences.

That’s why, as part of recent research for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, my colleagues and I investigated the experiences of older private renters – aged 35 to 54 years – from different parts of the UK, as they aim to find a decent home.

Shared experiences

Many of our research participants recounted their experiences of shared accommodation, forced moves, poor landlord practices and periods of homelessness. Many of their stories echoed those of “generation rent”; from reports of unaffordable rents, insecurity and poor quality housing, to difficulties in putting down roots and making a home.

Our research emphasised that these experiences are not restricted to young people. In fact, they are more common among low-income renters than any particular age group.

Even in middle-age, some of the tenants we spoke to still relied on the “bank of mum and dad”. Family support was vital in allowing them to pay their rent or save for a mortgage deposit. Some needed a relative to act as a guarantor on their rental contract. But not everyone has this resource to draw on, nor do they always want to ask their family for help.

Young people experiencing difficult living conditions often think that things will get better. By contrast, our research found that middle-aged renters had much less hope for the future. Some felt embarrassed and experienced a sense of “failure” because they could not realise their dream of home ownership.

Others had now aged themselves out of a mortgage. Lenders can be reluctant to approve loans that extend beyond retirement age when incomes drop. This is challenging for low-income households in particular, who - without the cushion of a private pension – may be unable to cover the repayments once retired.

Like younger renters in previous studies, the middle-aged renters we spoke to were frustrated at paying “someone else’s mortgage” – not least because it limited their ability to transform their own situation.

For some, the only way they could manage their budgets was to choose less desirable properties (often in poorer condition), which had lower rents, or to share with others. As other research has noted, such financial pressure can have negative effects on people’s mental health and well-being.


A different story

Older renters also face some different issues to their younger counterparts. Parents worried about how forced and unplanned moves would disrupt their children’s friendships and schooling. Being able to personalise a property and keep pets are also vital to making children feel settled and secure, yet not all landlords allow this.

Indeed, some landlords would not even allow children to live at their properties. Other parents (typically divorced dads) found themselves in shared accommodation that was not always appropriate for children to visit or stay in.

The practice of house sharing and renting a single room in a property is becoming more widespread. While for younger adults it has often been understood as a lifestyle choice, for the older renters in our study it was driven by economic constraint: they simply could not afford to live on their own.

Older age can also bring poor health, which may not be as prevalent among younger people. Yet the sector is not geared up to deal with the extra needs of ageing bodies. One participant who had a long-term health issue, described the challenges of sharing when mobility aids are needed and flatmates are not always understanding.

While there may be an opportunity for more socially minded private landlords to provide the support these tenants need, research suggests they are few and far between.

A deepening crisis?

The UK’s growing population of older private renters face distinct challenges, which could worsen the nation’s housing crisis. Accessing social housing remains challenging, while home ownership remains out of reach for many. Welfare reform, such as the housing benefit freeze, has excluded low-income renters from all but the cheapest properties.

Tenants of all ages want safe, secure and affordable homes. But without government action, that aspiration will remain unfulfilled. Reform of the private rented sector is important and is beginning to happen in different ways, in different parts of the UK. But legislation can only go so far.

Tenants must be made aware of their rights through public education campaigns. The government must fund local authorities to adequately resource enforcement action and tackle rogue landlords.

But above all else, the private rented sector must not be seen in isolation. To fix the broken housing market, there must be continued investment in affordable housing, and this must be matched by a political will to tackle the wider inequalities that are the root cause of poor housing.

The Conversation

Kim McKee, Senior Lecturer, Social Policy and Housing, University of Stirling.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The Tory manifesto promises to both increase AND decrease the rate of housebuilding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Image: Getty.

In his 2014 Mansion House speech, the then-chancellor George Osborne expressed with uncharacteristic honesty the motives at the heart of how the Conservatives see British housing politics: “The British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us.”

Five years later these contradictions remain unreconciled and present in their manifesto, which contains two different and contradictory – but clearly extensively targeted and focus-grouped – sets of policies.

The Conservatives have two housing targets. The first is to make significant progress to hitting “our target of 300,000 houses built a year by the mid-2020s”. The second is their aim to build “at least a million new homes” during the next parliament, which implies a target of 200,000 homes a year. This is not only 100,000 lower than their initial target but also lower than the current rate of housebuilding: 213,660 new homes a year. They have therefore implied at separate points in the same manifesto that they intend to simultaneously increase and decrease the rate of housebuilding.  

There are similar conflicts in their approach to planning. They intend to make the “planning system simpler” while simultaneously aiming to introduce community-led design standards for development and planning obligations to provide infrastructure for the local community.

None of this is unsurprising, The Tories don’t seem to know if they want to build more houses or not – so of course they don’t know whether they wish to make it easier or harder to do so.  

Politicians like obfuscation on housing policy to placate NIMBY voters. Take for example prospective Conservative MP and ‘environmentalist’ Zac Goldsmith’s crusade to save treasured local car parks. The manifesto can equally be accused of pandering to NIMBY instincts, protecting their shire voters from all housing, including ones they might actually need or want, by promising to protect the greenbelt.  

Instead, Conservatives intend to foist development on Labour-leaning inner-city communities and prioritising brownfield development and “urban regeneration”. This requires massive, infeasible increases in proposed density on brownfield sites – and research by Shelter has shown there are simply not enough brownfield sites in cities like London. Consequently, it is not clear how such a policy can co-exist with giving these inner-city communities rights on local design. Perhaps they intend to square that circle through wholesale adoption of YIMBY proposals to let residents on each street opt to pick a design code and the right to turn their two-storey semi-detached suburban houses into a more walkable, prettier street of five-storey terraces or mansion blocks. If so, they have not spelt that out. 

Many complain of NIMBYism at a local level and its toxic effects on housing affordability. But NIMBYism at the national level – central government desire to restrict housebuilding to make house prices rise – is the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, 63 per cent of UK voters are homeowners and price rises caused by a housing shortage are hardly unpopular with them. 


There is anecdotal evidence that protecting or inflating the value of homeowners’ assets is central to Conservative strategy. When George Osborne was criticised for the inflation his help to buy policy caused within the housing market, he allegedly told the Cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom, and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. More recently Luke Barratt of Inside Housing noted that most Conservatives he spoke to at the 2018 party conference were scared “they’d be punished by their traditional voters if the values of their homes were to fall”. He was told by a Conservative activist at the conference that, “If you build too many houses, you get a Labour government”.

But the senior figures in the Conservative Party are painfully aware that the continuing housing shortage presents major long-term problems for the Party. As the manifesto itself acknowledges: “For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that homeownership is within their reach.” Perpetual increases in house prices are incompatible with this goal. The problem has greatly contributed to the Conservatives’ severe unpopularity with a younger generation priced out of decent accommodation. 

Equally, there is increasing evidence that ‘gains’ from rising house prices are disproportionately concentrated in the south of England.  The differences in housing costs between regions greatly reduce labour mobility, suppressing wage growth in the north and midlands, which in turn leads to greater regional inequality. The policy of coddling southern homeowners at the expense of the economic well-being of other regions is a major long-term stumbling block to Conservative desires to make inroads into the ‘red wall’ of Leave-voting labour seats outside the south.

Before dealing with the issue of where housing should go, you must decide whether you want to build enough housing to reduce the housing crisis. On this issue, the Conservative response is, “Perhaps”. In contrast, even though they may not know where to put the necessary housing, the Labour Party at least has a desire in the abstract to deal with the crisis, even if the will to fix it, in reality, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately the Conservative Party seems to want to pay lip service to the housing crisis without stopping the ever-upward march of prices, underpinned by a needless shortage. Osborne’s dilemma – that the will of much of his party’s voter base clashes with the need to provide adequate housing – remains at the heart of Conservative housing policy. The Conservatives continue to hesitate, which is of little comfort to those who suffer because of a needless and immoral housing shortage.

Sam Watling is the director of Brighton Yimby, a group which aims to solve Brighton’s housing crisis while maintaining the character of the Sussex countryside.