Older private renters are in the midst of a ‘housing emergency’ as unaffordable rent increases stretch budgets to breaking point, says older people’s financial hardship charity Independent Age.

The organisation today launches its new research report, Hidden Renters: The unseen faces of the rising older rental wave, which found that the cost of renting is increasing poverty in later life, with

older private renters three times more likely to live in poverty than homeowners.

Based on in-depth interviews of over 40 older private renters on a low income and polling of more than 1,800 private renters in later life, the report shows that older people are being forced to pay significant increases in rent just to be able to stay in often substandard and sometimes dangerous rented homes.

Dangerous Budget Cuts

Older people usually have a static income and many of those on the lowest income rely on Housing Benefit to pay their rent, so they are especially vulnerable to rent increases.

Research for the Hidden Renters report found that:

  • Almost half (45%) of older private renters surveyed have seen a rent rise in the last year
  • Over half of these increases (57%) were between £50 and £200 
  • More than 1 in 5 (22%) of all older private renters in England said that they now cannot comfortably afford their rent

Interviewees talked about skipping meals, avoiding using their heating and not turning on the lights at home so they could afford their rent. Others said they might be forced to move after living years in the same home which can be physically demanding and expensive.

Independent Age is calling on the Government to unfreeze Housing Benefit so it covers the cheapest 30% of the local private housing market. Rents nationwide have gone up by an average of 10.4% in the last year alone. However, Housing Benefit, which almost half of all older private renters rely on to pay their rent, has been frozen since 2020. This means that older people are trying to meet unmanageable rent increases and are forced to make dangerous cuts to their budget. 51% of those on Housing Benefit shared that they occasionally or often felt anxiety about affording their rent, compared to the (still high) 42% of those not receiving the entitlement.

Terrified of eviction

As a result of the lack of alternative affordable housing for older people, many reported that they were extremely anxious about the threat of eviction from their current home.

All private renters currently lack security as they can be asked to leave at any time and through no fault of their own by being served a Section 21 ‘No fault eviction’ notice, which gives them just two months to vacate the property and find somewhere affordable and suitable to live.

The charity found that this worry means older renters are putting up with substandard homes, as almost 1 in 5 (19%) felt uncomfortable raising complaints to their landlord about issues with their home. This figure was higher for those in receipt of Housing Benefit, with 28% saying they’ve avoided raising concerns, possibly because of having a lower income and being even less able to find an alternative affordable home.

Overall, research for the Hidden Renters report found that 17% of all older private renters were concerned that their landlord could ask them to move out unexpectedly within the next 12 months. 86% said that knowing they could stay as long as they needed in their home would improve their experience of renting. Independent Age says that this shows the precariousness of being a private renter in later life on a low income and calls on the Government to implement the Renters (Reform) Bill in full, which it says will give greater protections to all private renters.

John Palmer, Director of Influencing and Engagement at Independent Age, said: “None of us expect to live our later years scraping by so we can afford our rent. But for many older private renters, this is their reality. It also means they are putting up with insecure, dangerous and unsuitable homes that are hazardous to their health so they can stay somewhere they can barely afford. Older private renters on a low income urgently need help with the housing emergency they find themselves facing. 

“The Government must take action to fix the broken private rental sector now. The government should raise Local Housing Allowance so that it covers the cheapest 30% of the local private rental market, and ensure that this is updated annually so renters aren’t forced into poverty when rents go up. The Renters Reform Bill must be debated and passed as soon as possible, and include an end to ‘no fault’ evictions and outlawing the practice by landlords of banning benefit recipients which often end up hurting older renters on a fixed income.”

Recommendations

Over the last decade, the number of people over 65 privately renting has increased by 56 per cent, which is set to increase further as younger generations who are more likely to privately rent reach pension age.

Independent Age says that the current private rented sector in England is not fit for the growing number of older people who deserve a home that is affordable, safe and that they can stay long-term. Their recommendations include:

  • The Government should unfreeze Local Housing Allowance, ensuring it covers the cost of renting the cheapest 30% of the market in the local area. Housing Benefit should continue to be uprated annually to accurately reflect the cost of renting.
  • The UK Government should give local authorities the power to moderate and cap in-tenancy rent increases and give them more power and funding to enforce existing laws.
  • The UK Government should pass and fully implement the Renters Reform Bill, which should include outlawing blanket bans on benefit recipients by landlords, extending the notice period of evictions from two months to four months and introducing measures to raise the standards of homes in the private rented sector.
  • Increased government investment in social housing.

 

Case studies

Michael, 69 (p.29) told us about his struggles to find a home: “I really don’t know what I’m going to do… you have no peace of mind… When I’m trying to rent somewhere… people do look at you and put you to the back of the queue. I spoke to a letting agent, and told her I’m on Pension Credit and I’m not employed and she said… ‘you haven’t got a prayer’”.

Rob, 66 (p. 17) told us about his experience struggling to afford rent in the place he grew up: “I’m frugal... I keep the lights off – and when the winter comes I don’t plan on turning on the heating” He fears that as he gets older he won’t be able to work: “That’s my biggest fear – losing my income and then losing my housing... if I was forced to give up work... I could see myself living in a tent, and it’s scary to think that. If I thought too much about it, I’d get very depressed.

Rajia, 70 (p.34) said “I have to do all the cooking in the front room now, because the kitchen is unusable: there are holes in the floor so big my foot goes straight through. The roof leaks, the walls are full of mould, there are so many rats they keep me awake at night.” Rajia’s landlord refuses to make any repairs, but her and her husband have no other place to go.

Alison, 66, (p.36) said “I’m very reluctant to… push… hard [for repairs], because there’s always the dread that they’ll say ‘well actually we don’t want you to live there anymore, could you leave please?’ So that makes me nervous about putting my case about things.”

Toni, 67, (p. 13) said “Long term I just try not to think about it [paying rent], because I’ll just worry myself to death.

Peter, 70, (p. 16) said that due to his rent taking up so much of his income he doesn’t “drink tea anymore, because putting the kettle on – six pence. Got to try and pull my belt in, in many ways.”

Peter, 70 (p.22) said “It would change my life completely if I had to leave, because I love it here so much, but I do need lower rent. So, I am considering moving to a cheaper place”.

Shelia, 71 (p. 24) said “It’s always a thought in the back of your mind… one day, just being given notice. I have no security at all.

An unnamed female renter between the age of 75-80 (p. 24) said of her fear of being evicted “I feel frightened because of the lack of security… moving would be a really big deal because I haven’t got the physical ability and I don’t deal with stress as well as I used to… I know we wouldn’t be able to find anywhere.”

 

- ENDS -

Notes to editor

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,804 adults who private renters aged 65 and over in England. Fieldwork was done in June 2023.

Our report is based on:
• more than 40 interviews conducted with older people on a low income who are privately renting across England. The interviews were conducted between January and March 2023 
• a nationally representative survey of 1,804 older private renters by YouGov in England, with fieldwork done in June 2023 
• insights shared by our advisers from people renting in later life who have contacted our national Helpline and advice services during 2023

For media enquiries please contact

Phoebe Watkins

E: phoebe.watkins@independentage.org

M: 07732 691 463

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