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The hidden renters

Published on 04 October 2023 07:48 PM

Following the publication of their new report "Hidden Renters" we are very pleased to have Morgan Vine, Head of UK Policy and Influencing at Independent Age write for us about older renters and the challenges they face.

The challenges of renting are so often seen as problems that only affect working age adults but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a large and growing group renting in later life across England with the data from the English Housing Survey showing this group has increased by more than 50% in just ten years.

While some older people may rent by choice, the majority of older private renters in England are forced into this situation and are having a tough time. 37% of older private renters are in poverty after their housing costs have been factored in and they are also more likely to be in poverty for longer. With London having the highest pensioner poverty rate in the country, many older renters across the capital will be struggling to meet their needs as prices soar. London renter Thabani shared with Independent Age:

“I only had my State Pension and didn’t know how to make ends meet. When the letters from the bank and energy company started coming through saying, ‘You have to pay this much by this month – or else’, I was so frightened.”

Renting on a low income fills each day with decisions no one wants to make just to keep a roof over their head; some have shared they are cutting back on the number of meals they have or only eating cold food others told Independent Age they are washing less often and turning the lights off to save energy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are changes which could be made now that would significantly improve life for renters of all ages, including older people.

  1. Implementing the Renters Reform Bill

The Renters Reform Bill lays out proposed changes to the private rental sector in England. There is some good stuff in there (and a few bits which Independent Age think could be improved). However despite starting its parliamentary journey to become law in late Spring 2023, it’s all gone quiet and seemingly no progress has been made since it was first read out in Parliament.

We urgently want the Government to progress this Bill, and improve it by making some changes. We think blanket bans on benefit recipients by landlords should be outlawed as these disadvantage older people on low income who receive Pension Credit, people like Michael who told us:

When I’m trying to rent somewhere I think people do look at you and put you to the back of the queue. I spoke to a letting agent, and I told her I’m on Pension Credit and I’m not employed, and she said, ‘there’s 40 to 50 applicants for every one of these one-bedroom flats that come up. I’ll be honest with you, unless you are showing £2,500 a month, every month, you haven’t got a prayer.’”

We also know that evictions with little notice and for no reason – which are completely allowed under current law and can be given through a Section 21 notice - can be a source of incredible anxiety for older renters in London, some of them shared with us:

You’ve got very little protection as a tenant, because you’ve got a tenancy but as you get towards the end of a tenancy you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

It’s very expensive to move. It probably cost me about £5,000 altogether with everything included with the removal.” Mari, 65, London

The rent I pay is less than what other people are paying. It is less, so I don’t want to upset the apple cart. It’s a balancing’s all down to negotiation, and this is where a lot of private tenants don’t push for things because they can be given a section 21.” Anonymous, 66, London.

To improve this situation Independent Age wants to see the proposed notice periods for eviction lengthened from two months to four months in circumstances where the tenant has not breached the tenancy agreement and we want the proposed protection period at the start of a tenancy to be extended from six months to two years.

  1. Increasing Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

Improving security of tenure is insufficient if privately rented homes are unaffordable, which many in London are.

“Will they put the rent up? Are they going to kick me out? What’s going to happen? You just don’t know and obviously the older you get, your earning potential goes down and, you know, how are you going to protect yourself? It’s a real worry.” Anonymous, 69, London

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) was last updated based on data from autumn 2019. This is now hugely below current rents, especially in London. This means renters of all ages on low income, including those in later life, don’t get enough money from LHA to cover their rent.

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the proportion of new private rental properties on Zoopla covered by LHA has fallen from 23% to 5% since the freeze. These increasing shortfalls significantly impact older people on low income who rent privately as statistics show they rely on Housing Benefit more than other age groups. As well as causing significant anxiety, in worst case scenarios this can lead to homelessness.

Independent Age wants the Government to increase LHA and realign it with local market rents so that it better reflects how much renters actually pay for their homes. Increasing LHA now is the fastest and easiest way to improve the lives of older people facing financial hardship who rent privately

  1. Establish a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing

Our ageing population is diverse, but so often groups are hidden, silenced or ignored. In the case of older renters too many people assume they don’t exist and instead that everyone in later life is a homeowner. Establishing a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England could play a significant role in identifying and advocating for people in later life, particularly those who feel unable to speak up. The Commissioner would be independent of Government, and have the power to hold decision makers to account. Independent Age has spoken to older people across the country about the UK Government establishing a Commissioner, one individual shared:

There needs to be a public champion with a role in government for older people and their interests. Older people are often spoken about and used to reinforce arguments about policy, without ever having a voice themselves.” Anonymous.

When it comes to the private rental system, a Commissioner could investigate issues such as large upfront payments and other forms of discrimination.

You can find out more about the experiences of older renters living on a low income across England by reading Independent Age’s report ‘Hidden renters’. If you would like to stay up to date and support this work please sign up to Independent Age’s campaign network to stay in touch.

Morgan Vine is the Head of UK Policy and Influencing at Independent Age, which aims to improve the key systems and policies that are failing older people facing financial hardship. Morgan leads activity to change policy and practise to increase the income of older people in poverty, reduce their costs and ensure their homes are affordable, secure and in a good state of repair.