Older people currently renting privately live in homes that are more likely to be of poor quality, with higher housing costs than owner occupiers and are less likely to be able to adapt their homes to their changing needs. Owner occupiers who are asset-rich and cash-poor share some of these characteristics. In the future, if recent trends continue, more older people are likely to be living in the private rental sector. But the characteristics of the private rental sector in the future may be different from today.
Of the homes we will be living in by 2050, around 80% are already built, and 4.3 million of these existing homes in England are of a non-decent standard, however, existing homes can be improved. While around a third of properties in the private rented sector are classified as non-decent, and many owner occupiers also struggle to adequately maintain their properties, there have been examples of policy changes contributing to marked improvements in the social rented sector over time. Since the introduction of the Decent Homes Standard in 2001, the percentage of socially rented properties classified as non-decent has declined. In 2006, 29% were non-decent; by 2018 this had fallen to 12%.
A similar improvement in quality may happen in the private rental sector. Recent policy initiatives have introduced legislation that aims to tackle poor-quality homes and give renters a greater ability to challenge their landlords on unsafe housing. For example:
- The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (2018), which set a minimum energy performance certificate rating that has to be met for a house to be rented out, improving the thermal comfort of the private housing stock; from April 2020 this will also apply to existing tenancies, not just new tenancies
- the Fitness for Human Habitation Act (2018) was introduced in March 2019; this enables private and social tenants to take their landlord to court if their homes are unsafe or contain risks that could cause serious harm
- the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector Regulations (2020) require rental properties to have a valid electrical safety certificate, which may reduce the presence of serious hazards; this applies to new tenancies from July 2020 and will also apply to existing tenancies from April 2021
- In our analyses, 7% of households containing someone aged 60 or over were living in the private rental sector. On 15 April 2019, the government announced that it will introduce new legislation to abolish Section 21, which gives landlords the right to evict tenants on a no-fault basis; this may give older tenants reassurance that they will not be evicted if they request repairs or adaptations.
While these policy changes will improve conditions for private renters of all ages, many currently only apply at the start of a new tenancy. Most older private renters have not moved home or changed tenancies in several years (Figure 7). So while these policies will benefit tomorrow’s generation of older private renters, the 7% of today’s older people who are renting in the private sector may not have seen their effects. Our analyses are based on this 7%, and additionally relate to 2015 to 2017, before most of these policies came into effect. The experience of tomorrow’s older private renters may be different, as they will benefit more widely from these (and any future) policies regulating conditions in the private rental sector.
The other group focused on in this article are asset-rich and cash-poor homeowners. There may be a different lending environment in the future, enabling this group to free up money locked in their homes to make improvements and adaptations:
- mainstream lenders have recently started offering mortgage and loan products at older ages than in the past, which enable people to remortgage or take out small loans secured against their property, enabling older homeowners to make adaptations and improvements to their homes
- equity release is becoming more common, enabling homeowners to free up money to make adaptations and repairs
We have shown that people living in poor-quality housing are more likely to be living in deprived areas and be in the private rented sector. Improving housing quality in the private rental sector, with associated reductions in poor health, would help to reduce health inequalities between affluent and deprived areas, an important government priority.
However, all results that we have presented are based on averages, and within the private rental sector (as other tenures) there is a lot of variation. There are also some benefits to living in the private rental sector at older ages compared with other tenures, including the burden of repairs and maintenance falling on the landlord not the tenant, and the freedom to move to a more suitable home without needing to finance this by selling a property first.
More widely, housing is related to many other areas of policy interest. Poor housing quality is costly not only in terms of health of the individual but also the for the National Health Service. Making more homes accessible and adapting them to the needs of disabled and older people would enable people to live independent lives for longer and so potentially reduce social care demand. Improving thermal efficiency of homes by improving insulation and modernising heating systems would reduce carbon emissions, helping to tackle climate change, as less fuel would be needed to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the home.
While our analysis has focused on households containing an older person, it is important to realise that poor housing quality has an accumulative effect over time, affecting people across their life course from young to older ages. The quality and affordability of the housing we live in is an important issue for all ages, not just the older population.
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