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Rental properties are getting smaller, claims new survey

Private renters’ average floor space per person in England has fallen by 16 per cent over the past 20 years while rents as a share of income have remained high, according to a survey by the Resolution Foundation.

The study claims that England’s 4.4m private renting households are already feeling the cost of living crisis with rent levels for new tenancies rising by more than 10 per cent over the past year. It adds that annual rents overall increased by 3.4 per cent in August 2022 – more than double the average rate of 1.3 per cent seen between 2018 and 2021.

The Foundation says that while there has been some progress on providing higher quality rental housing - the share of non-decent homes halving from 47 to 23 per cent between 2006 and 2019 – in terms of space, the private rental sector has deteriorated.


For example, the proportion of overcrowded households in the private rental sector has more than doubled since 1996-97 – from 3.1 per cent to 6.7 per cent by 2019-20.

The foundation claims that this rise in over-crowding has been driven by a 16 per cent fall in average floor space over the past 20 years (from 43m² per person in 1997-2001 to 36m² in 2017-19). Collectively this reduction in floor space amounts to 75km² – equivalent to the size of Nottingham. 

It also claims that in contrast, average floor space for homeowners has increased by 10 per cent over the same period (from 39m² to 43m²).

Low-income private renters have experienced the greatest decrease in space, losing three times more than high-income renters (21 per cent compared to seven per cent), while 25-34-year-olds have the smallest average space per person at just 30m². 

The report authors note that this is largely driven by more people sharing a similar amount of space over time, such as the rise of families with children living in rented accommodation.

Additionally, while there have been significant improvements in rental properties’ energy efficiency recently – the proportion of private renters in homes with EPC rating D or below has fallen from 98 per cent in 1996-2001 to 67 per cent in 2017-19 – over 70 per cent of low-income and older private renters (over 55-year-olds) will live in expensive-to-heat homes this winter.

The foundation says the government has recently proposed a set of reforms to the private rented sector, which includes committing to applying the Decent Homes Standard to the sector for the first time, improving security of tenure, and requiring landlords to speed up the pace of energy efficiency improvements.

But it says: “However, the progress on housing quality is not matched by a focus on cost. Addressing this issue will require expanding housing supply, more social housing, and a focus on increasing the earnings and benefit levels of younger and poorer families struggling with high rents.”

The foundation’s economist, Felicia Odamtten, says: “The deal that 21st century Britain offers private renters is a bad one. Rents have risen and floor space has fallen, with renters losing space equivalent to the size of Nottingham over the past 20 years.

“With rental prices growing at twice the pace they were two years ago – and hitting double digits for new tenancies – renters are facing considerable financial pressure, even despite the government’s welcome support with energy bills. This is in part because much of our private housing stock is so poorly insulated.

“As well as ensuring that landlords hit the target of making all properties energy efficient by 2028, policymakers also need to massively increase the number of new homes being built.”


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