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Charity report highlights difficulties older people face in PRS

Monday 09 April 2018

Independent Age, a charity for older people, has released a report which examines the challenges for older private renters in the UK.

The charity which campaigns on everything from care and support, money and benefits, health and mobility, highlights the problems that older private renters face in finding suitable homes which are secure and of a good standard. 

The report - Unsuitable, insecure and substandard homes: The barriers faced by older private renters - is based on analysis of research taken from English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing 2014/15, a small sample of in-depth interviews with callers to their helpline, the English Housing Survey 2014/15 and the Labour Force Survey 1996-2016. 

Independent Age claim that problems are only going to get worse, as more older people turn to the private rented sector due to problems getting social housing, partially due to the fact that social housing stock is declining, currently making up only 17.5% of housing stock in England and Wales.

They argue that older people are often overlooked in housing debates as they make up a comparatively small percentage of private renters, and when they are discussed, incorrect assumptions are made that older people have accumulated property wealth over the years. This is often not the case, with many older people in rented properties having lived in rented properties the whole of their lives. 

They'd like to see policymakers do much more to try and understand the unique needs of this demographic and reflect their needs in future policy developments. 

Older people, more often than not, have fixed incomes usually by means of a pension, or are less likely to see an increase in income, meaning that as rental prices increase, they have less disposable income or end up in a situation where they can no longer afford the rent. 

According to the report, one-in-three older people in the private rented sector are living in poverty once they've paid the rent, meaning affordability is a real concern. So while social housing tenants may be worse off financially overall, this isn’t necessarily the case after they have paid rent.

Accessibility and suitability
Often, in later years older people living in rented accommodation will need to have homes adapted for use as they become more immobile, suffer chronic illness or develop a disability. Furthermore, research cited by Independent Age suggests that older private renters are more likely to be affected by disability or chronic illness than homeowners.

Whilst local councils are responsible for funding minor adaptations, it is still up to the discretion of the landlord whether permission to complete the modifications is granted, which sometimes might not happen. The report explains that older private renters are more likely to have paid for adaptations to their home themselves, with almost two in five (38%) having done this. Just one in 12 (8%) said their landlord paid for adaptations, compared to one third (33%) of social renters.

The charity argues that there should be pressure on house builders to build more specialist, or 'Lifetime Homes' designed to meet health and care needs. Lifetime Homes criteria can be universally applied to new homes at minimal cost. Each design feature adds to the comfort and convenience of the home and supports the changing needs of individuals and families at different stages of life.

In 2014 only around 7% of all homes in England have what Independent Age consider the four most important accessibility features: minimum widths for internal hallways and doors - convenient to people with mobility issues and wheelchairs, an entrance level WC, a flush threshold, and level access. 

Poor living conditions
Homes that are poorly maintained or have damp and mould present risks for anyone, but will have a greater impact for older people who may already have health issues and who are more susceptible to developing health problems as a result of poor living conditions. This is compounded by the fact that people over the age of 85 spend on average 80% of their time at home. 

They refer to figures from Nicol, S., Roys, M. and Garrett, H. (2011) The cost of poor housing to the NHS, BRE Trust which show that poor housing is estimated to cost NHS £1.4 billion per year. 

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “Life as an older person in private rented accommodation can be unstable and financially insecure, yet they are often invisible in thinking about housing. Older private renters face a delicate balancing act of rising rents on a low fixed income, the unnerving possibility of being forced out of their home at short notice, dealing with unscrupulous landlords, and the fact that their home may not even be suitable for their needs. They may also lack the emotional and familial support needed for this.

“It is shameful that a third are already living below the poverty threshold. Government and local authorities must ensure that renters of all ages have a safety net to prevent them being forced into poverty, and that they have recourse to challenge landlords when they feel that they are being poorly treated.”

Independent Age's recommendations:

  • Increase the Local Housing Allowance for older people, and introduce exemptions from LHA for those facing particular challenges.
  • Rent controls should be investigated by the Government as an option for making private rented homes more affordable.
  • Section 21 notices should be abolished.
  • Longer standard tenancies should be the norm.
  • Better information, advice and support should be provided to older people - e.g. benefits available, Home Improvement Agencies, home removals assistance scheme for those on low incomes.
  • All new builds should be suitable for an ageing population and must meet 'living home standards' or similar.
  • It should be made easier for tenants to request adaptations for their home.
  • Landlords should have to explain why a home adaptation has not been granted, maybe using a similar system to that already used in Scotland (where landlords cannot unreasonably refuse an adaptation), with an appeals process.
  • Council databases for local rental properties should hold information about accessibility, repair history and whether adaptations would be welcomed in principle.