Soaring rents making life ‘unaffordable’ for private UK tenants, research shows

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Soaring rents have in effect made life unaffordable for private tenants across swathes of the UK, according to research undertaken for the Guardian.

The analysis shows that asking rents on new listings are up by almost a third since 2019, and some people are facing increases of up to 60%. Prices in 48 council areas are now classed by the Office for National Statistics as unaffordable when compared with average wages.

It comes amid warnings of a rising wave of evictions, allegations of “price gouging” by some landlords, and fears that the rental crisis is fast becoming a homelessness emergency.

Tenants in London and Manchester are planning protests this weekend to demand that the government freezes rents as an emergency measure.

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, is facing growing calls to finally ban no-fault evictions, used by landlords seeking to raise rents, which the government has been pledging to do so since April 2019. Ministers also face demands to pay more in housing benefit to cover rising costs.

The London Renters Union said its members had reported average rent increases of almost £3,400 a year (21%), which it described as “rent gouging”, with consumer price inflation at 9.6%.

One union member said he and his partner were forced out when a landlord demanded £8,000 more a year, and he was now working two jobs to pay the extra £200 a month in rent for their new home. Another said they were sofa surfing after being evicted after an unaffordable rent increase.

“It’s a pretty bleak situation to be in when you have 20 years of work behind you and nothing to show for it,” one renter in her 30s told the Guardian. She is awaiting bailiffs after refusing to pay a 60% rent rise in an east London property with a leaking roof, taps and rot.

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Sarah, 56, a part-time carer in Manchester facing a choice of a 16% rent rise or eviction, said: “Gove isn’t moving on anything. It’s not good enough. There are people living in damp and disrepair. There is a huge crisis developing.”

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a rent freeze in September, describing the pressure on household budgets as a “humanitarian emergency”. The UK government has resisted rent control, saying last month it would lead to “disinvestment in the sector”.

In Manchester, Bath, Nottingham, Cardiff, Brighton and Exeter, average asking rents now stand at more than 30% of a couple’s median income, the level at which the ONS considers rent “affordable”, Guardian analysis found.

One in five households in England rent their home, and costs have increased rapidly in recent months as the Bank of England has increased interest rates. In June, across the UK, average advertised rents were 5% higher than 12 months earlier, but by October they were up by 12% from 12 months previously, according to figures supplied to the Guardian by the property data company TwentiCi.

Rents in Great Britain – map

The sharp rent rises appear to have been triggered by some landlords passing on rising interest rates, and others following their example, creating a rent ratchet. While there are 4.4m renting households, there are only 2m buy-to-let mortgages, suggesting around half are owned outright. Renters told the Guardian how they had been served eviction notices on properties in considerable disrepair, only for them to be let out at several hundred pounds a month higher rent.

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“Almost a million private renters are at risk of being kicked out of their home this winter, and more will follow,” said Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, which ran a survey suggesting 504,000 private renters had received or been threatened with an eviction notice in the last month, up 80% on the same period last year, and that 482,000 were behind on their rent. “Every day our emergency helpline advisers are taking gut-wrenching calls – from the mum who’s skipping meals to pay the rent, to the family terrified they will be spending Christmas in a grotty homeless hostel.”

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The housing and homelessness minister, Felicity Buchan, said last month that the renters reform bill, which would ban no-fault evictions, would be introduced “during this parliament”, which means tenants may remain unprotected until late 2024.

After the lifting of the pandemic eviction ban, no-fault eviction court hearings have tripled in the last year, with accelerated proceedings where no hearing is needed rising to 6,619 in the three months to the end of September – above the equivalent pre-pandemic rate. From April to June, English councils had to help nearly 6,000 households either made homeless or threatened with homelessness after receiving a no-fault eviction, almost double that of a year earlier.

In October, the median rent listed by estate agents across the UK stood at £1,150, up 12% from the £1,025 recorded in October 2021, and up 28% from the £895 average asking price recorded in 2019, according to TwentyCi. The analysis is based on live asking price data on about 200,000 properties a month on property portals and estate agent sites.

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There was a 48% increase in asking rents in Westminster in the year to October, the largest increase in the country, while the properties available to rent fell by 18%. House hunters saw rents increase by 37% in Arun, West Sussex, by 35% in Windsor and Maidenhead, and by 34% in Elmbridge, Surrey.

Chris Norris, the policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association, said dwindling supply was to blame for rising rents. He criticised Gove for previously saying he wanted to “shrink the private sector”, and said the NLA was urging him to reverse course, unfreeze housing benefit and accelerate housebuilding.

“According to Zoopla, the demand for private rented housing is up 142% so far this year compared to the five-year average,” Norris said. “In stark contrast, the supply of such housing has fallen by 46%. The end result is that more and more tenants are finding it difficult to access a dwindling supply of homes, resulting in higher rents.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities cited the energy price guarantee, which lasts until April 2023, as evidence of the help being provided for renters.

“Councils have a duty to ensure families are not left without a roof over their heads, and we’re giving them £316m this year to help prevent evictions and provide temporary accommodation,” the spokesperson said. “Ensuring a fair deal for renters remains a priority for the government. That’s why we will deliver on our commitment to abolish section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions.”

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