“Older renters at risk of being left behind”

Older private renters in England are at risk of being left behind, says Independent Age, the charity supporting older people in financial hardship, and their new report report urges Government to learn from the rest of the world.

The charity today launches its new report ‘Paving the way: How England can learn from other nations about supporting older private renters’.  

Older private renters in England are a rapidly growing group, having increased by 55% over the last decade, but Independent Age says they are often overlooked and not well served by the current rental market. Many are on a low income, with almost two in five (37%) of UK older private renters in relative poverty after housing costs.  

The charity has found that many older private renters are in the midst of a housing crisis, hit with unaffordable rent increases, the fear of being evicted at any time despite not being at fault and forced to accept poor-quality homes that are hazardous to their health. It says that the UK Government must urgently improve the situation for older private renters in England, who are at risk of being left behind while other nations have measures to better support tenants.  

Although the charity says that no rental system perfectly meets the needs of older private renters, learning from successful examples of policy and practice abroad, and closer to home, could help the UK Government improve some of the problems older renters living on a low-income face. Housing is a devolved issue and renters have different rights across the four nations, with the UK Government setting the laws for England.  

Independent Age says that protections could be improved for renters in England with the Renters (Reform) Bill, which it says has the potential to transform the lives of private renters of all ages. 

Paving the way identified issues and solutions to: 

  • Security – the average length of tenancy is Germany is 11 years, compared with just 2.5 years in England. This is largely due to German tenancies being indefinite, not fixed term, and with limited reasons why a tenant can be evicted. Scotland effectively banned fixed term tenancies in 2017, making it easier for people to stay in their homes for longer. Older renters in England need greater protections from evictions, to enable them to ‘age in place’ which is widely agreed to lead to the best mental and physical health outcomes. 
  • Threat of homelessness – In 2022/23, the number of people in England aged 65 and over who were homeless or threatened with homelessness was about 12,000. In France, citizens have more rights that help them get housing if at risk of homelessness or currently without a home. Stats show that this had led to more than 100,000 French households being rehoused between 2007 and 2016.  
  • Affordability – Across the UK, rents have risen 10.4% in the year up to April 2023. This is especially difficult for those on a low, fixed income to absorb, and polling by Independent Age showed that 45% of older private in England felt anxious about being able to afford their rent. Ireland has designated ‘Rent Pressure Zones’ – these are areas where rents are highest and rising. In these 56 zones, rents cannot be increased by more than inflation, or by more than 2%. Around 71% of private renters aged 45 or over live in a Rent Pressure Zone. The policy has relieved some of the strain of rent increases for those older people on fixed incomes, limiting the gap between rent increases and the uprating of benefits that make up many people’s income. The Scottish Parliament has introduced a similar temporary rent cap initiative, but more long-term security is needed. 
  • Discrimination – In England, it is legal for landlords and estate agents to place blanket bans on those in receipt of benefits. Currently, almost half of older private renters are on Housing Benefit. For private renters over 70, this rises to over three quarters (77%). In Washington DC, housing discrimination across several characteristics is prohibited, including discrimination based on the source of income. The policy better protects those on benefits and financial entitlements.  
  • Evictions – Independent Age says that it has spoken to multiple older private renters who fear asking for repairs could risk them being subject to a ‘revenge eviction’. This sometimes leads to older renters living in substandard accommodation and means the landlord has a disproportionate amount of control over the tenancy. Since 2018, Portugal has had a law in place protecting vulnerable tenants from eviction who have been living in their home for at least 15 years – including those aged 65 and over, or with an advanced level of disability. This has been lauded as a measure that protects tenants who may be particularly susceptible to a power imbalance between their landlord. In Wales, the period of notice given after a tenant is served a no-fault eviction is six months, as opposed to England’s two. Although Independent Age want no-fault evictions banned outright, it says that an increase in the amount of notice given is a positive.  
  • Understanding older private renters – Independent Age says that the needs of older private renters across the UK are poorly understood and often not met by policy makers. New Zealand leads the way in understanding this group’s needs, with multiple sustained research projects undertaken by universities, public health bodies and thinktanks, some of which has been used to improve the situation of older renters. For example, Kāinga Ora – a public housing landlord – has aligned its accessibility policy, which aims to help people ‘age in place’ independently to The Better Later Life Strategy launch by New Zealand’s Office for Seniors.  

Joanna Elson CBE, Chief Executive at Independent Age said: “Many of the older private renters we speak to live in a constant state of anxiety, worried about eviction, unaffordable rent and asking their landlord for repairs. It’s clear that England is lagging behind many other countries in protecting tenants in later life. While nowhere in the world is perfect, there is plenty the UK Government can learn from across the globe, and even from our neighbours who make up the rest of the UK, to better protect the rapidly growing number of people renting in later life.  

“The good news is that many of the solutions our new report has looked into to better protect private renters of all ages are included in the currently proposed Renters (Reform) Bill. This has the potential to protect renters from unfair evictions, end blanket discrimination against those on income related benefits and redress the imbalance between tenants and landlords What we must see now is the Bill being passed in full as soon as possible. Passing this is the first step in protecting renters of all ages.” 

To improve the experience of renting privately in later life, Independent Age recommends that the UK Government: 

  • swiftly implements proposed measures in the Renters (Reform) Bill 2023, including:  
    –the ban on Section 21 (no-fault) evictions  
    – ending financial discrimination – for example, upfront payments and No DSS advertisements 
    – longer notice periods for other no-fault evictions 
    – making the new landlord database accessible to those offline  
    – applying the Decent Homes Standard to the PRS
  • consult on a duty for local authorities to have vulnerable tenant liaison officers with the appropriate funding to help prevent homelessness for vulnerable tenants, including older tenants  

For older renters in Scotland, Independent Age recommends that the Scottish Government introduces a permanent system of rent controls in its forthcoming Housing Bill. This will allow rents in the private rented sector across Scotland to be set at an affordable level for older people in poverty.  

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