Parliamentary report finds older residents face ‘private rent catastrophe’

New report stresses a need for more than one million low cost rented homes to adequately house older people by the late 2040s.


More than 630,000 households could be forced out of their privately rented homes because they can’t afford the rent, with a new Parliamentary inquiry estimating more than one million low cost rented homes will be needed to adequately house older people by the late 2040s – an average of 38,000 homes a year.   

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Housing and Care for Older People calls on the new PM to prioritise low-cost rented housing to protect the pensioners of tomorrow, warning that the current  programme of around 3000 homes a year for older people is not be enough even to help the existing social housing tenants who need to downsize in older age.

Made up of MPs and Peers, the Group warns that unaffordable rents for older people could cause a surge in pensioner poverty in the next 20 years.   

The report also forecasts that, in terms of quality of accommodation, the number of older disabled households living in unfit and unsuitable private rented accommodation could leap from around 56,000 to 188,000 in 20 years’ time and to 236,500 in 30 years’ time.

“We need action now to avoid sleepwalking into a situation where hundreds of thousands of older people will find themselves in insecure tenancies they cannot afford, fearing eviction and potentially even homelessness – the social and economic costs of this would be enormous, Housing Benefit costs would skyrocket,” said Group chair Lord Best.

“We urgently need a national strategy for renting in later life.

“This must include a plan to build more low-cost rented homes, and a programme of investment in care and support to prevent a housing catastrophe for the pensioners of the future,” he said. 

The report – Rental Housing for an Ageing Population – shows that the number of pensioners in the private rented sector (PRS) could more than treble to around 1.5m in the decades to come.

The Group puts a specific emphasis on councils and housing associations as providers to prioritise older people in building homes.

By doing so, the Group believes providers can achieve “two for one”, helping younger households through the release of larger homes.

Both in investing in new developments and in regenerating/ re-provisioning existing sheltered housing schemes, the Group sees these landlords as the main source of much needed accommodation for an ageing society.

But it is not convinced that such providers have recognised the scale of demand which will fall to them to meet.

Their current annual output of 2-3,000 rented homes for older people is said to be “woefully inadequate” in the face of demand for more than 10 times these numbers in the years ahead.

Evidence provided to the Inquiry suggests that the production of accommodation designed for older people has flatlined, when the demolition or switch of developments to younger tenants is taken into account.

The Inquiry recommends that housing associations and councils, when reviewing and re-purposing their existing stock, ensure the full replacement of homes for older people.

And, as councils consider how best to use new borrowing freedoms for housing provision, the Group also recommends “all relevant authorities” give greater priority to older people’s housing, identifying many existing social housing estates as presenting the opportunity for a “small number” of bungalows or purpose-built apartments on infill land.

Those otherwise reluctant to ‘rightsize’ can be attracted to move when the opportunity is on their doorstep, the report says.

People typically see their incomes halve after retirement, and because many people in the PRS currently pay 40% of their earnings in rent, they could be forced to spend up to 80% of their income on rent in retirement.

Analysis for the inquiry by the Social Market Foundation think-tank shows that by 2038, if private sector rents rise at the same rate as earnings, more than 630,000 older people households may struggle to afford to stay in their homes and could be forced to move.

According to Shelter, private rents in England rose an average of 60% faster than wages between 2011 and 2017. Future increases like this without a boost to social house building could see a sharp rise in homelessness amongst older people.

The report also forecasts that, in terms of quality of accommodation, the number of older disabled households living in unfit and unsuitable private rented accommodation could leap from around 56,000 to 188,000 in 20 years’ time and to 236,500 in 30 years’ time.

The inquiry estimates that that 1.1m low-cost rented homes will be needed to adequately house older people by the late 2040s – an average of 38,000 homes a year.  The report makes a series of recommendations for government and social housing providers, and suggests reforms that are needed in the PRS.

“Social housing providers are the key players in this, but their current programme of around 3000 homes a year for older people will be not be enough even to help the existing social housing tenants who need to downsize in older age – and release family homes for the next generation,” said Lord Best.

“I hope our report will alert government, planners, housing associations and house-building  councils to the vastly greater numbers of older people for whom low-rent, secure accommodation will be needed by our ageing population in the years to come,” he said.

The Group has produced a series of Inquiry reports on housing our ageing population – known as HAPPI.

Released today (July 17), the first report focuses on the growing group of older people living in the private rented sector.

The Inquiry heard how the PRS operates in ways that can be problematic for older tenants:

  • Very significantly, rents which may be affordable when a tenant is in work can become too expensive when they are reliant on pension income. And for those who qualify for Housing Benefit, there may be an unbridgeable gap between the actual rent and the help received
  • The absence of lifetime security of tenure is unsettling; the possibility of being required to leave at short notice – a “Sword of Damocles” – is not good for peace of mind
  • The poor condition of some properties is particularly bad for the health and wellbeing of older people. A quarter of all privately rented properties are “non-decent” – often because they are cold and damp – and these are disproportionately occupied by older people
  • The chances of securing necessary adaptations – from handrails to stairlifts – is much lower in the PRS than in other tenures. Councils may be reluctant to provide Disabled Facilities Grants because the tenant may not occupy the property for 5 years or more and landlords may be reluctant to spend money when adaptations may have to be stripped out for the next tenant

These factors led the Group to conclude that although some of the problems for private sector renters could be alleviated in ways the report describes, broadly the PRS is not best placed to meet the needs of renters who move into older age.

“The problem with the private rented sector is that people think it is the solution. It isn’t. Insecure tenancies and expensive rents mean that very often it is not a suitable tenure for older people.

Many older people today were lucky enough to be able to buy their own home and watch the value of it grow. But for the pensioners of tomorrow there is little chance of being able to do that.

“The broken housing market and failure of past governments to adequately fund social housing means that we are going to see many more older people struggling to pay the rent,” said Brendan Sarsfield, Chief Executive of Peabody, who was a member of the inquiry .

Councils and housing associations can do more but public investment will be needed to support them in meeting demand not just from their own ageing population of existing tenants but also from those forced to leave the private rented sector.

Investment now, both in capital grant and revenues to provide support services, could head off this crisis before it is too late,” he said.

NHF chief executive Kate Henderson said the research showed the housing crisis had the old now struggling alongside the young as social housing stock in England has decreased, along with government funding for it.

“In privately rented accommodation people face extortionate rents, inaccessible accommodation and eviction at short notice. This isn’t an acceptable way for anyone to live, let alone older people who are more likely to be ill or less mobile.

“This must be a wake-up call to the Government that more money for building social housing, and especially housing that is fit for retirement, is desperately needed.

“Our latest research shows that the Government must invest £12.8bn in building new social housing every year if they’re to ensure all generations have somewhere secure and affordable to live,” she said.

Dr Rachael Docking, Senior Programme Manager – Homes, at the Centre for Ageing said: “We have an urgent challenge on our hands to prevent people in later life being pushed into poverty or trapped in unsuitable housing in the years to come.

“We need a massive drive to build homes that can be lived in by anyone – from young families to older people with mobility needs.

Private landlords, local authorities and housing associations all need to step up and make sure their housing meets the needs of people with disabilities or who have lost mobility with age.”



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