If you want to find out what is really happening in the private rented sector (PRS), probably the most reliable method is to see what the statistics tell us. As opposed to reading, for example, reports put out by tenant advice organisations such as Crisis or Shelter or the CAB.
After all, a middle-aged renter who is entirely happy in her rented property is unlikely to speak to anyone at Shelter so they won’t know about her. They only know the stories of the people who go to see them.
Although there undoubtedly ARE horror stories and had landlords, the story told by the recently published English Housing Survey Private Rented Sector Report 2014-5 is a lot more optimistic. And things seem to be getting better too.
For example, 65% of renters are (according to the answers they gave to the survey) satisfied with their ‘tenure’ (ie the fact that they are renting their home). This is admittedly less than owner occupiers (98%) and those in social housing (82%). However, it has gone up from 48% in 2004-5. So nowadays people are more accepting of renting.
As the proportion of households living in the PRS has from 2004-5 gone up from 11% to 19% this indicates that probably the majority of new renters are happy.
People who are unemployed are least likely to be happy with their accommodation (59%) but this is probably because, having less available money to spend on rent, they probably live in the worst properties.
Most satisfied are retired people renting (85%) but I do wonder whether this is because their standards are lower. After all, they are more likely to have grown up in a family which had an outside loo and no fridge or washing machine.
So far as satisfaction with their landlord is concerned, the figure is 74% – down from 77% in 2004-5. So this means that 74% are happy with their landlord but only 65% are happy to be tenants.
I’m a bit surprised that a greater percentage of renters did not want to be owner occupiers. But maybe this is down to the way the question is phrased.
Then there is the condition of property. Property condition is measured by what is called the ‘decent standard’. For a property to be classed as ‘decent’ it has to meet four criteria:
- it has to meet the current statutory minimum standard for housing as set out in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
- it must be in a reasonable state of repair (related to the age and condition of a range of building components including walls, roofs, windows, doors, chimneys, electrics and heating systems).
- it must have reasonably modern facilities and services (related to the age, size and layout/location of the kitchen, bathroom and WC and any common areas for blocks of flats, and noise insulation).
- it most provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort (related to insulation and heating efficiency).
Between 2006 and 2014 the proportion of ‘non-decent’ homes in the private rented sector fell from 47% to 28%.
Despite the fact that this is still less than the figure for owner occupiers (18%) and social housing (14%) – things are obviously a lot better than they were. Although the report indicates that part of the increase could be due to new homes entering the sector.
So far as tenancy deposits are concerned, 74% of renters said that they paid a deposit. Out of those, 62% said it was protected, 11% said it was not protected and 25% didn’t know. The report doesn’t say whether this is an improvement or not but I suspect it is.
Still, as there are 4.3 million households in the private rented sector, even 11% equates to around 473,000 households where the deposit is not protected, which is a lot. The true figure is probably much higher.
It looks as if most tenants get all their deposit back (63%) with 20% getting it returned in part and 14% losing it all.
The report does not say whether the 14% deserved to lose all their deposit. I seem to remember the schemes saying that only about 1-2% of deposits go to adjudication, so the rest of the 14% either accepted the deductions, decided not to bother to go to adjudication or did not realise that they could.
Looking at the fees paid to landlords or letting agents, it looks as if the average fee was about £223 – up from £196 in 2009-10. Although no doubt there is a lot of difference between the actual fees charged. The number of renters being charged a fee has gone up too – 40% of households in 2014-5, from 34% in 2009-10.
It looks as if most landlords and agents are being upfront about fees (76%) as only 18% of renters said that they were hidden with 6% saying that they didn’t know.
The stats also show that when private renters were asked whether fees would affect their decision to move, 32% said that they would not make a difference, 35% said that it would be something they would have to think about and 34% said that it would stop them moving to a new home,
This is just a small part of the report. But it shows that the sector is increasing and that most people are reasonably happy in it.
There are, of course, more substandard properties and unhappy people in the PRS than there are with owner occupation or in the social housing sector – but that is to be expected. The PRS is where you go for a home when you can’t go anywhere else and it is where the worst housing is to be found.
There does though, seem to be a majority of renters who are happy with their lot and who presumably chose to rent rather than buy.
This goes to show that people who are unhappy with being forced to rent should not assume that everyone feels the same way. Many people prefer the freedom that renting gives with the ability to up sticks and move without the stress of having to buy a new home and go through the conveyancing process.
In view of the report findings, the disproportionately hostile attitude of the Cameron government towards the PRS appears unjustified and it is to be hoped that the May government will take a more reasonable approach.
If you want to read the report it is here.