Living in Fear – Experiences of Older Private Renters in London

With the recent launch of our latest social innovation support programme, Reimagining Rent, supporting innovations working to make the private rented sector work better for vulnerable people and those on low incomes, we invited Gordon Deuchars, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Age UK London, to outline some of the specific challenges facing older private renters in the capital.

At Age UK London we have been running our Older Private Sector Tenants Programme funded by the Nationwide Foundation. We started the project because we recognised that there are likely to be more older private renters in London in the future, and thought that this could lead to risks for older people’s wellbeing and extra pressure on health and social care services. What we found is summed up in our research report “Living in Fear – Experiences of Older Private Renters in London”. We don’t usually give our reports such alarming titles: it reflects the strong concerns for the future that older private sector tenants told us about.

In the recent past private renters have been a minority of older people in London and they still are, but the numbers are growing. Our research estimates that from 2014 to 2039 the number of London households in the PRS with at least one person aged 65+ could double to 122,000. The majority of them will be in Assured Shorthold Tenancies while in the past, most older private tenants were in more secure regulated tenancies.

Older people shared some very striking concerns with us. One was around security of tenure: older people tend to want “a home for life” that they can make their own and feel secure in, and of course, this fits badly with the short-term nature of ASTs and the threat of Section 21 eviction. Insecurity of tenure also contributes to problems with repairs and maintenance for older people afraid of eviction and therefore worried about drawing attention to themselves: as one person said: “It is best if the landlord can forget you’re there, even for a short period of time”.  As a result, some older tenants reported doing repairs themselves though they were the landlord’s responsibility, while others continued in poor or unsafe conditions rather than asking for repairs to be done. On the other hand, some of the remaining regulated tenants reported being harassed by landlords trying to “winkle them out” in order to raise the rent or sell the property: this could happen for example by repairs turning the property into a building site which the tenant had to live in.

The rapidly rising cost of rents in the PRS was a particular issue for many older Londoners. People on pensions or housing benefit, or approaching the end of their working lives, can find that rising rent costs steadily undermine their finances. One person who was still in paid employment reported spending 75% of their salary on rent. Some people respond by cutting down on food and/or heating, risking damage to their health, especially in the winter months.

While some of these issues are shared with PRS tenants of all ages, many older people live with long-term conditions and disability and all have to consider possible future changes in their health in relation to where they live. With the known issues of housing conditions in the PRS, having more older PRS tenants is likely to lead to more need for health and social care support – and for more home adaptations, very hard for PRS tenants to access under the current system.

With consultation underway on the London Mayor’s Housing Strategy, our report makes a range of policy recommendations. They include providing longer-term tenancies, developing landlord licensing, resources for repairs and adaptations and providing information and advice (and legal support) to older private tenants across all London boroughs.

As well as our research report, we have produced two other resources:

  1. “Supporting the Needs of Older Private Tenants in London” – aimed at helping local organisations, in particular, voluntary organisations, who are relatively new to working with older private tenants and might not be totally prepared for how the issues of age and private renting intersect.
  2. “A Guide for Older People in Private-Rented Accommodation”  – to provide older people themselves with some basic information about private renting and signpost them to further information, advice and support.

We are at an early stage in understanding and responding to the growth in private renting by older people. Age UK London looks forward to taking part in this debate as it develops.

Gordon Deuchars joined Age UK London in 2003. Responsible for London-wide influencing work, he has coordinated campaigns and research on issues ranging from social care to transport and employment for older people, and recently older private sector tenants. Gordon has worked in the voluntary sector since 1990. His last role before joining Age UK London was as Policy Officer for AGE, the European Older People’s Platform. Gordon was responsible for developing international networks on issues like pension reform and social inclusion.

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