26 Feb 2014

Private sector overtakes social housing for first time

New figures show there are now more tenants in the private rented sector than the social rented sector in England, but the number of owner-occupiers was at its lowest for a decade.

The latest findings of the English Housing Survey for 2012/13 show that of the estimated 22m households in England, four million (18 per cent) were renting privately, while 3.7m (17 per cent) were in social housing.

The figures tell a story of massive social change.

When the records began in 1980, 31.4 per cent of tenants were social renters, compared to just 11.9 per cent in the private sector.

But as council tenants exercised their right-to-buy and the private rented sector expanded following changes to tenancy laws, the number of people in social housing has fallen year-on-year.

Private tenants: young, hard-up and transient

Since the early 2000s, the private rented sector has grown steadily from around two million households to the current four million.

While the age of those in social housing (measured by the age of the main householder) was similiar to the population in general, those in the private sector tended to be younger. Two million households renting privately had a main householder aged under 35.

Nearly half (45 per cent) of all private sector households were couples, with or without children. And a quarter of all private tenants received housing benefit, up from less than a fifth in 2008-09.

Since 2004-05, the number of moves in the private rented sector has exceeded the number of households moving as a result of selling a homes they own. Over a third (34 per cent) of private renters had been in their home for less than a year and 80 per cent had lived in their homes for less than five years. The vast majority (78 per cent) of households in the private sector who moved went to another privately rented home.

Poor condition

Of the 4.9m dwellings classed as “non-decent”, 4.4m were in the private sector. But this is an improvement on past years, as the number has fallen from 6.6m in 2006, despite an increase in the number of private renters over the same period. Privately rented properties are more likely to be older, and around 9 per cent had some type of damp problem.

Great progress has been made in the social rented sector, where the number of non-decent homes has almost halved from 1.1m in 2006, to 581,000 in 2012.

Rising rents

Between 2008-09 and 2012-13, average rents rose from £71 a week to £89 a week in the social sector and £153 a week to £163 a week in the private sector.

Fewer homeowners

The number of people owning their own home has fallen since 2003, when the owner-occupier rate was at a peak of 70.9 per cent of all households.

After decades of increasing home ownership (from 56.6 per cent in 1980), the financial crash led to a subsequent restriction on the availability of mortgages at a time when house price inflation was outstripping wage rises.

In 2012-13 owner occupancy stood at 65.2 per cent of all households.