In recent research by the housing charity Shelter, it concludes that in 55% of local authorities in England – private rents are now unaffordable. Homes in these areas cost more than 35% of average local take-home pay – the affordability benchmark set by the charity in its Private Rent Watch report. To underline the findings, Charity says that 38% of families with children have had to cut back on buying food to pay rent.
Private rents have risen at one and a half times the rate of income in the ten years up to 2007, and Shelter, who used two-bedroom homes (the most popular) to compile its report, says that in 8% of the country’s local authorities, rents were half of full-time take-home pay, with just 12% of areas being ‘affordable’. Chief Executive Campbell Robb said: “We have become depressingly familiar with first-time buyers being priced out of the housing market, but the impact of unaffordable rents is more dramatic. With no cheaper alternative, ordinary people are forced to cut their spending on essentials like food and heating, or uproot and move away from jobs, schools and families.”
Housing Minister Grant Shapps said that the Government recognised the importance of private landlords in providing accessible and affordable homes: “We have stopped the imposition of excessive new red tape on the private rented sector, which would have pushed up rents and reduced choice for tenants,” he said. The Minister went on to state that the Government needed to play a more active role in house building, as the practice fell to its lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s. He also said that councils would be rewarded for freeing up disused public land to build on.
Also amongst Shelter’s findings was the fact that private rentals in rural areas were even higher, relative to wages, than in urban areas. The report highlighted the fact that rents were more affordable in Manchester and Birmingham than in Devon and Herefordshire. The Countryside Alliance have called upon the Government to “urgently review” the rental market in rural areas.
The meteoric rise in private rents can probably be put down to the fact that private landlords are being increasingly relied upon to provide housing in this country – giving them something of a monopoly. A rising population, a lack of social housing available, very little affordable housing being built and potential first-time buyers being forced to rent instead of buying – these have all contributed to the current market situation. However, can anyone really blame private landlords for ‘making hay whilst the sun shines’ – and have the Government really got the right to dictate private rental rates?