Overcrowding in social housing rises to 24-year high

Overcrowding in the social housing sector has risen to its highest recorded level with more than 300,000 households squeezed into too few rooms, coinciding with the introduction of the bedroom tax.

In addition more than 250,000 households in the private rented sector are also living in overcrowded conditions, according to the latest English Housing Survey. Taken together it shows that at least one million people are being crammed into overcrowded homes.

Overcrowding rates are now eight times higher in social housing and six times higher in private rented accommodation than among owner-occupied homes. Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum some ten per cent of social rented homes are underoccupied (with two or more spare bedrooms) compared to 15 per cent of privately rented homes and 54 per cent of owner-occupied homes.

Figures from the latest EHS report for 2017/18 shows there are 4.5 million private rented homes and 4 million social rented homes (2.4m HA homes and 1.6m council homes), representing 19 and 17 per cent of all households in the country. These figures have recently stabilised after big changes from the 1980s, when the private rented sector provided no more than ten per cent.

Lifestyles revealed

Social renters have lived at their current address for an average of 11.9 years, (for local authorities renters the figure is 13.4 years, while for HA renters, the average is 10.9 years). For private renters the average length of residence was 4.1 years. Half of private renters have lived in the private rented sector for less than five years, while 25 per cent had been in the sector for 5-9 years and 26 per cent for 10 or more years.

Between 2007/08 and 2017/18, the number of households with dependent children in the private rented sector increased by about 795,000, with an almost equal fall in the numbers in owner occupiers.

About three quarters of private renters are working, mostly in full-time work with 12 per cent in part-time work, eight per cent are retired, five per cent in full-time education and just three per cent are unemployed.

Among social renters, 41 per cent were working, with two thirds in full-time work and one third in part-time work. Over a quarter of social renters were retired. A quarter were ‘inactive’ – a group which includes those with a long- term illness or disability and those looking after the family or home.

Improvements flat-lining

The energy efficiency of our homes has improved hugely in the past 20 years but has recently flatlined with no improvements recorded in average SAP ratings, for all tenures, since 2016. Overall, the standard of our homes is improving. In 2017, a fifth of dwellings failed to meet the Government’s decent homes standard, down from just over a third a decade earlier.

But privately rented homes are more likely to be damp, less likely to have at least one working smoke alarm and they are more likely to contain hazards such as infestations and electrical dangers that pose a risk to life. In all 14 per cent of privately rented homes have “Category One” hazards compared with six per cent of homes rented from councils or housing associations.

The housing charity Shelter, said the figures revealed a market “full to bursting”. “It’s no coincidence that the number of people trapped in expensive and unstable private renting is still incredibly high, while the supply of new social homes has become almost frozen,” said Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive.

“The private renting market is full to bursting and that comes with a heavy price tag. From the parents at their wits end bringing up their children in short-term rentals where they can be asked to move at the drop of a hat, to the older, retired renters who live in constant fear of the next rent hike.”

By Patrick Mooney, editor