Our new analysis sheds light on the ‘rentquake’ which has taken place across England since the start of the millennium. It shows that a growing proportion of people across all corners of our country are privately renting. While homeownership remains the preferred tenure for many, it has become ever more out of reach – and our stock of social housing has declined.
This is important because, right now, the loss of a privately rented tenancy is the number one cause of homelessness.
It’s worth repeating, because it’s the elephant in the room when it comes to the housing crisis. This worrying fact is rarely acknowledged and yet a central issue in the ongoing housing crisis. In 2018, a far greater proportion of the adult population are at risk of homelessness than in 2001.
To understand the rentquake better, we have estimated tenure change at local authority level using YouGov Profiles, a nationally representative sample of over 150,000 residents in England who have taken part in YouGov surveys over the previous 12 months. This data is compared to the 2001 census.
National change – 2001 to 2018
The national picture shows a startling change in our population’s housing. Since the start of the century the proportion of adults living in the private rental sector (PRS) has more than doubled, from 11% of the adult population in 2001 to 28% now. Meanwhile, home ownership plummeted from 73% of the population to 59%.
But local-level data reveals this rentquake is happening just as much in our market towns and leafy villages as it is in the built-up boroughs of London. News stories about the private rental sector often focus on how it has increased in cities, or how unaffordable rents in areas like London are making life challenging for their residents – and on the face of it, analysis initially reinforces this.
Percentage point change in size of PRS – Top ten English authorities
|Local authority||Percentage point change||Urban/rural classification|
|1||Castle Point||31%||Large urban|
|2||St Albans||31%||Significant rural|
|3||Tunbridge Wells||30%||Significant rural|
|7||Blackburn with Darwen||29%||Other urban|
|10||Surrey Heath||28%||Other urban|
In 2018, 90% of the authorities with the largest proportion of private renters are in London or the South East, and two of the top ten authorities with the biggest percentage point increases – the swing from owner occupation to renting – are also London boroughs. Similarly, most of the authorities with the biggest increases in the PRS are predominantly urban areas.
Look beyond London
However, after Castle Point, it is two mainly rural authorities – St Albans and Tunbridge Wells – that have seen the largest change since 2001. Indeed, across England, authorities classified as rural have seen an average swing of 14 percentage points towards the PRS, compared to 18 in urban authorities.
Equally, four in ten of our top ten below are essentially market towns: Norwich, Lincoln and Surrey Heath (which has Green Belt status).
It is worth mentioning that these areas have previously had very high rates of home ownership (e.g. Castle Point, at 92% in 2001), and as our cities remain deeply unaffordable for many living there, rapid demographic changes in commuter towns is likely to continue.
Across the regions
The rentquake is equally as evident if we look at the regional numbers. Blackburn in the North West, Tunbridge Wells in the South East, Lincoln in the East Midlands, and Castle Point in the east, to name a few, have all experienced the same renter surge as Barnet or Enfield.
This all points to the biggest domestic tenure change for residents in all corners of England since the end of the Second World War.
Percentage Point change in size of PRS – Regional results
|Stevenage||25%||Hinckley and Bosworth||25%||Lewisham||25%|
|North East||South East||West Midlands|
|Darlington||22%||Tunbridge Wells||30%||Cannock Chase||27%|
|Redcar and Cleveland||21%||Southampton||28%||Birmingham||22%|
|Newcastle upon Tyne||19%||Runnymede||27%||Staffordshire Moorlands||21%|
|North West||South West||Yorkshire & the Humber|
|Blackburn with Darwen||29%||Exeter||25%||Scarborough||26%|
|Liverpool||29%||Bristol, City of||25%||York||22%|
|Burnley||26%||Poole||24%||North East Lincolnshire||21%|
|Rossendale||26%||Bath and north east Somerset||23%||Calderdale||20%|
While the future growth of the private rental sector across the country is not a certainty, it’s clear that we’re not just looking at an urban problem, so there may be further change on the horizon. This has serious implications for households and of course, the policy decisions our government take next.
- data presented is for adults aged 20 and over
- figures for private renters include those who are living rent-free
- data for 2001 is drawn from the 2001 census microdata
- data for 2018 is downloaded from YouGov profiles. This data is weighted to match the 2011 Census by age, gender, region and social grade. Data was collected from May 2017 to May 2018. YouGov Profiles is an aggregated data set of the surveys that YouGov carries out over the specified period
 National and regional trends were compared against the English Housing Survey and are within a similar range.