This paper explores the nature of the private rented sector as it exists today, looking at changing patterns of occupancy and the characteristics of the sector itself. It explores the growth of the housing benefit submarket, and what the tenure means for tenants themselves and the neighbourhoods that private rented housing helps to shape.

Private renting is the fastest growing sector of housing. Low levels of housebuilding, diminishing stock, rising prices and a shift in state spending from building houses to subsidising rent, mean that the percentage of households renting their homes increased in all English regions in the decade to 2011.

Policy debates around the growth of people renting privately have focused on an inability to get on the housing ladder and the ever-rising cost of rent subsidy for those on housing benefit. But there are broader issues that this debate is failing to recognise that have a profound effect on the lives of individuals and families in the sector and the places where they live.

Between 2001 and 2011, the number of private renters in poverty doubled from 2 million to 4 million

Housing standards vary wildly, and a third of privately rented homes fail to meet the Decent Homes criteria.

The growth of an under-regulated private rented sector (PRS) means that more state expenditure is directed towards property and services which it is unable to influence.

We make four general recommendations in this report:

  • Local authority powers: Better use should be made by local authorities of existing powers, such as the use of selective licensing, improvement notices, hazard awareness orders and demolition orders, to persuade private landlords to maintain their property to a good standard.
  • Housing management: Local authorities should establish community housing agencies as not-for-profit groups dedicated to working within the private rented sector and responsible for operating a system of landlord accreditation, tenant matching and other management services.
  • Tenant support services: Alongside these agencies, PRS support teams should be established to support vulnerable private tenants.
  • Housing improvements: Councils who already have an accreditation system in place should ensure home improvement grants and loans are available to landlords to enable them to meet Decent Homes criteria.