The latest report from the English Housing Survey has revealed that overcrowding is at its highest ever recorded rates in both the social rented and the private rented sectors.
The overall rate of overcrowding in England in 2019/20 was 4 per cent, with approximately 829,000 households living in overcrowded conditions – up from 3 per cent, or 682,000 households in 2016/17, but this masks big differences between different tenure types.
Overcrowding affects 9 per cent of social renters (344,000 households) and 7 per cent of private renters (302,000), but only 1 per cent of owner occupiers (183,000 households).
In the social rented sector, overcrowding has increased from 8 per cent in 2017/18 to its current rate of 9 per cent of households, the highest it has been since 1995/96 when data collection began. Overcrowding has increased in the private rented sector, from 6 per cent in 2017/18 to 7 per cent in 2019/20, also the highest it has been since 1995/96.
The number and proportion of overcrowded households in the owner occupied sector has remained relatively stable over the last 20 years. Conversely under-occupation rates (having two or more spare bedrooms) has increased for owner occupiers and declined for renters.
Between 1999/00 and 2019/20 the proportion of owner occupiers living in under- occupied accommodation increased from 43 to 52 per cent. Over the same time period, under-occupation in the social rented sector decreased from 12 to 10 per cent and in the private rented sector from 19 to 15 per cent.
Residents well being
The report also found that in general terms, social renters have lower levels of well-being and are more likely to be lonely than home owners and private renters.
Personal well-being remained relatively high in 2019/20 and the average life satisfaction score was 7.7 (out of ten), although this varied by tenure and social renters scored lower across all well-being measures. Social renters also had higher levels of anxiety, scoring 3.2 (out of ten) compared with 2.9 for private renters and 2.5 for owner occupiers.
Overall, 6 per cent of heads of households reported that they were lonely often or always. This varied by tenure with social renters more likely to report that they were often or always lonely (12 per cent compared with 4 per cent of owner occupiers and 5 per cent of private renters). On average, owner occupied homes are larger and are more likely to have outside space than rented homes.
The average usable floor area of all dwellings in 2019 was 95 square metres but significant differences exist across different tenure types. Homes in the social sector tended to be smaller (at 66 sq m) than homes in the private rented sector (76 sq m), while owner occupied homes (at 108 sq m) were, on average, much larger than rented homes.
The majority (83 per cent) of dwellings in England had a private plot (for the sole use of the dwelling) and a further 16 per cent had a plot shared with other dwellings. The remaining 1 per cent did not have a plot at all. This varied widely by tenure.
Shared plots were most prevalent in the social sector: 37 per cent of social homes had a shared plot, compared with 28 per cent of homes in the private rented sector and 6 per cent of owner occupied homes.
Most owner occupied dwellings had a private plot – 93 per cent compared with 67 per cent of private rented homes and 62 per cent of social rented homes. A largerer proportion of homes in the private rented sector did not have access to a plot (5 per cent compared with 1 per cent of social homes and 0.5 per cent of owner occupied homes).
However, the social housing sector scores better when looking at quality as there is a lower proportion of non-decent homes in the social rented sector than in the private rented and owner occupied sectors. In 2019, 12 per cent of dwellings in the social rented sector failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard, a much lower rate of failures than in the other sectors: private rented (23 per cent) and owner occupied (16 per cent).
Over the last decade, the proportion of homes with HHSRS Category 1 hazards has declined across all tenures. In 2019, 10 per cent of the housing stock had a HHSRS Category 1 hazard, down from 21 per cent in 2009. Such hazards are more prevalent in the private rented sector (13 per cent) than the owner occupied (10 per cent) or social rented sectors (5 per cent).
While the private rented sector had the highest proportion of homes with a Category 1 hazard, there was a notable decrease in the proportion of stock with such hazards, down from 28 per cent in 2009 to 13 per cent in 2019. The energy efficiency of the English housing stock has continued to improve.
Rents and affordability
In 2019/20, the average rent (excluding service charges) for households in the social sector was £103 compared with £201 per week in the private rented sector, a significant difference of £98 per week. Not surprisingly social and private rents are higher in London than outside of the capital.
In 2019/20, the average private rent in London was £342 per week, more than twice the average rent outside London (£159 per week). Between 2017/18 and 2019/20 there was a £30 increase in private rent in London, from £312 to £342 per week. Social renters in London paid, on average, £138 per week compared with £95 per week outside of London.
On average, those buying their home with a mortgage spent 18 per cent of their household income on mortgage payments, whereas rent payments were 27 per cent for social renters and 32 per cent of household income for private renters. Excluding Housing Benefit, the average proportion of income spent on rent was 34 per cent for social renters and 37 per cent for private renters
In 2019/20, 3 per cent of private renters reported being in rent arrears at the time of interview, and 5 per cent reported that they had fallen behind with rent payments in the 12 months prior. Social renters were more likely to report being in rent arrears: 11 per cent reported that they were currently in arrears, and 11 per cent reported that they had fallen behind with payments in the 12 months prior to the interview.
In 2019/20, 27 per cent of private renters and 27 per cent of social renters reported finding it either fairly or very difficult to afford their rent. Social renters were more likely than private renters to report finding it very difficult to afford their rent (9 per cent of social renters and 7 per cent of private renters).
In 2019/20, 45 per cent of households in England had no savings. Social renters were most likely to report having no savings (80 per cent), followed by private renters (60 per cent) and owner occupiers (32 per cent). Among owner occupiers, 40 per cent of mortgagors had no savings compared with 25 per cent of outright owners.
By Patrick Mooney, Editor