Challenges facing older private renters in England

March 27, 2018

Half a million older private renters are ‘invisible’ in policy decisions on housing and age-related issues, according to a new report on the challenges facing older private renters in England.

The findings say that older private renters are 'invisible' despite being more likely to report cold and damp in their homes, expecting to get into financial difficulty in the future, and many being in poverty after housing costs.

According to the report from Independent Age, which examines the challenges facing older private renters in the UK, almost one third (32%) of older private renters feel their accommodation isn’t suitable for their needs.

One in 10 of all private rented households are occupied by older people, an estimated half a million people. Over the next 20 years, it is projected that the number of older households living in private rented accommodation will increase by around two-thirds, from 338,000 households to around 549,000. Many older people who rent have done so all their lives. Older private renters are disproportionately more likely to move than older people in other household tenures, with more than three-quarters (77%) moving to another privately rented home or to social housing.

Other findings from the report, Unsuitable, insecure and substandard homes: The barriers faced by older private renters, include:

  • Twice as many private renters aged 65 and over say they have cold and damp in their homes compared to older homeowners or social renters.
  • More than one in four (29%) older private renters say they sometimes or often have too little money, with one in seven saying they don’t go out socially because they can’t afford it.
  • One third of private renters aged 65 and over are living below the poverty threshold after they have paid their rent, with poverty levels higher among private renters than older people in other housing situations.
  • Older private renters are more likely to have paid for adaptations to their home themselves, with almost two in five (38%) having done this. Just one in 12 (8%) said their landlord paid for adaptations, compared to one third (33%) of social renters.

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said, 'Life as an older person in private rented accommodation can be unstable and financially insecure, yet they are often invisible in thinking about housing. Older private renters face a delicate balancing act of rising rents on a low fixed income, the unnerving possibility of being forced out of their home at short notice, dealing with unscrupulous landlords, and the fact that their home may not even be suitable for their needs. They may also lack the emotional and familial support needed for this.

'It is shameful that a third are already living below the poverty threshold. Government and local authorities must ensure that renters of all ages have a safety net to prevent them being forced into poverty, and that they have recourse to challenge landlords when they feel that they are being poorly treated.'

Independent Age makes the following recommendations to improve the lives of older private renters:

  • Local rent controls and greater protections for private renters to be investigated and adopted to ensure that people are not priced out of areas and that rents are kept at affordable levels, which would benefit private renters of all ages.
  • Enough social housing to be made available to older people on low fixed incomes, especially in London and rural areas, where there are more private renters aged 65 and over.
  • Investment to ensure that new build homes, whether for home ownership or rental, are fit-for-purpose for an ageing population, and built to a high standard, well-located and affordable.

In February, the Communities and Local Government Committee found that a national strategy on housing for older people is needed to bring together and improve policy in this area.

Commenting on the Independent Age report, Margaret Willcox, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said, 'One of the most effective ways in which we can support our ageing population is by making sure the homes they live in are fit-for-purpose. Housing is clearly linked with health and social care, and the Government’s upcoming Green Paper should look at how best housing can be maintained and adapted to support the needs of our ageing population, regardless of tenure, or who the landlord is.

'Adapted and well-maintained housing, which supports older people, can prevent or reduce the number of falls and prevent episodes of ill health that require admission to hospitals. This would not only reduce pressure on the NHS but be a significant return on investment for housing.

'It’s essential that the Government works with landlords to help adapt homes for older people so that tenants can live independently for longer. This would benefit tenants, landlords and the NHS and ensure that we can house our ageing population and keep them in their homes for longer.

'Housing for older people is a key area for discussion in the upcoming Green Paper, which is where measures which could adapt housing should be discussed, but with just six per cent of our existing stock currently geared towards older people, we need to develop a solution that enables older people to live in housing equipped for their specific care needs.'

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