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'Squalor and distress' - life for older people in private rented housing

Published on 27 October 2016 12:01 AM

An Age UK report has revealed the reality of life for people over 65 at the bottom of the private rented sector.

  • The report is based on frequent calls to the charity's advice line about problems with privately rented accommodation
  • Age UK has found that many older private tenants are living in appalling conditions with disinterested landlords and negligent letting agents
  • The number of older people renting in the private sector is set to soar in coming years.

Private renting: the future for older people?

Currently, households aged over 65 account for fewer than one in ten of all those living in the private rented sector.

This is a rapidly increasing housing option for older people, with 200,000 joining the rental market in the last four years.  Estimates show that a third of over-60s could be living in private rented accommodation by 2040.

The truth about rented accommodation

In its new report, ‘Ageing in squalor and distress', Age UK draws on calls from older people and their families to its free telephone advice line. These calls paint a stark picture, showing how bleak life can be in poor privately rented accommodation.

Calls to the advice line uncovered the following experiences among older people renting at the bottom end of the market:

  • Damp, mould and cold going unchecked, causing or exacerbating chronic illnesses
  • Repeated failures to carry out repairs to essential services such as heating and cookers
  • Over the top rent rises imposed following necessary improvements
  • Landlords refusing to allow the installation of aids and adaptations that older people need, like ramps or handrails.
  • Older tenants feeling harassed and bullied into leaving because their landlord wants to sell.

Older people are deterred to challenge these poor conditions and services. According to the report, the main reasons for not speaking up include insecure tenancies and an all too realistic fear of eviction.

Age UK calls for reform

Stories like Richard's are all too common and show the urgent need for legal reform in the private rented sector. Only this can strengthen the rights of older tenants and ensure they are treated fairly.

Age UK is demanding more resources for local environmental health services, so the law is properly enforced; better access to aids and adaptations for older people; and more comprehensive and more available local housing advice, so older people understand their options. They hope to work with the Government and private landlords to implement these changes.

Caroline Abrahams summarises the plight of older people living in private rentals: 'Calls to our advice line show that some highly vulnerable older people are enduring grim living conditions in the private rented sector and this is truly shocking. No one should have to put up with such squalor at any age, but the idea that a chronically ill older person could be living on their own for weeks or even months with no proper heating, or cooking facilities or hot water is sickening.

'The law is far too feeble and the withering away of local environmental health services is making the problem worse. As it is, the bottom end of the private rented sector is no place for a vulnerable older person, but if that is what we believe as a society we need to do something about it and create better alternatives. Our first and immediate priority though should be to improve the appalling plight of older tenants like those described in our report.'

For more information and advice on housing and tenancy rights, call Age UK's advice line on 0800 169 2081.

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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