Debates around the state of the current housing market are almost wholly focused on home ownership and first-time buyers. We are fixated on ‘intergenerational inequality’ and descriptions of 20 year olds whose social lives are being hampered by the fact that they still live with their parents.
Home ownership is often described as our ‘national obsession’, fuelled by decades of policy-making that has prioritised buying houses and driven aspirations towards this goal. But let’s consider an alternative – the private rented sector, one which is largely unregulated, and yet rapidly growing.
One in four (27%) privately rented homes are considered non-decent, meaning that it could be a health risk to occupants and lacks many basic provisions. That’s in comparison to 13% social rented and 20% of owner-occupied (non-decent). It is a tenure that usually comes with a contracted expiry date, is less secure in terms of fixed monthly costs and often prevents people making vital home adaptations to make where they live more accessible.
Whilst media and political attention is often focused on enabling home ownership, the experiences of those living in the private rented sector have remained just that: private, invisible and largely unsupported.
Renting in later life can be a difficult experience
In contrast to the common image of renters, there are around 500,000 older people living in rented accommodation in England. It is a growing figure. Older people’s experiences of renting are often a heightened version of the challenges facing younger groups, with issues related to short-term tenancies, repairs and maintenance, accessibility, proximity to friends and family, and the availability of local services becoming even more pertinent.
Perhaps the issue that is causing the greatest concern is the financial insecurity that renting can bring. In the last seven years, it is estimated that rents across the UK have increased by 15.6%, resulting in, on average, around one third of working-age people’s income being spent on rent.
So although this is an issue facing all ages, older people’s reduced income and limited opportunities to increase their income if needed, leaves them particularly at risk.
It won’t come as a surprise that homelessness among older people is increasing, partly due to increasing numbers of people living in precarious renting situations in later life. In fact, between 2010-2015, the number of older people street-homeless doubled. This is shocking. Homelessness impacts on people’s quality of life, health and wellbeing, and for older people, is likely to exacerbate older people with health and mobility issues.
Older people renting homes need more support
The current situation is not inevitable. There are changes that would better support people of all ages in rented accommodation. The recent removal of Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and high letting fees, and the introduction of a new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act aimed at increasing the quality of rented accommodation are all welcome and important actions taken by the Government in the past year.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we also call on the Government to expand access to the Disabled Facilities Grant (essential funding given to people to support the cost of home adaptions) to include people on shorter tenancies by focusing on need rather than length of tenure. Currently, it is only available to those with a contract for five or more years, excluding many who would benefit from this support. We also call for greater incentives and encouragement of open-ended tenancies that provide security and flexibility for both tenants and landlords, and for better support and education for landlords to better understand their responsibilities towards their tenants.
Everyone should have the right to affordable, good quality and accessible housing in later life.
It is a complicated and difficult situation to negotiate. But, with these sorts of practical, and relatively easy changes, we can get one step closer to giving people the levels of wellbeing, security and dignity that everyone deserves.
Holly Holder is Senior Evidence Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better.
Have you been affected by any of these issues?
If you have been affected by any of the issues described in this blog, or simply need someone to reach out to, you can call Independent Age’s freephone Helpline for information and advice on 0800 319 6789.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age