There’s a rentquake in English market towns, and we’ve barely noticed

There’s a rentquake in English market towns, and we’ve barely noticed

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.[1] 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
4 Barnet 29% Major Urban
5 Norwich 29% Other urban
6 Enfield 29% Major urban
7 Blackburn with Darwen 29% Other urban
8 Liverpool 29% Major urban
9 Lincoln 28% 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

East East Midlands London
Castle Point 31% Lincoln 28% Barnet 29%
St Albans 31% Rushcliffe 26% Enfield 29%
Norwich 29% Charnwood 25% Havering 25%
Stevenage 25% Hinckley and Bosworth 25% Lewisham 25%
Cambridge 24% Leicester 25% Newham 24%
Colchester 23% Corby 23% Haringey 24%
Harlow 22% Nottingham 23% Harrow 24%
Three Rivers 22% Erewash 22% Hackney 24%
North Hertfordshire 22% Boston 22% Sutton 22%
Southend-on-Sea 22% Blaby 21% Tower Hamlets 22%


North East South East West Midlands
Darlington 22% Tunbridge Wells 30% Cannock Chase 27%
Stockton-on-Tees 22% Surrey Heath 28% Solihull 22%
Redcar and Cleveland 21% Southampton 28% Birmingham 22%
Newcastle upon Tyne 19% Runnymede 27% Staffordshire Moorlands 21%
Hartlepool 18% Slough 27% South Staffordshire 20%
Sunderland 18% Mole Valley 25% Sandwell 19%
South Tyneside 17% Waverley 24% Walsall 19%
County Durham 16% Ashford 24% Coventry 19%
North Tyneside 13% Maidstone 23% Rugby 19%
Middlesbrough 12% Oxford 22% Stratford-on-Avon 18%


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%
Tameside 22% Sedgemoor 23% Sheffield 20%
Bolton 21% Swindon 22% Kirklees 18%
Halton 21% East Dorset 21% Bradford 17%
Manchester 20% Plymouth 21% Doncaster 16%
Sefton 20% Bournemouth 21% Craven 16%
Lancaster 19% North Dorset 17% Leeds 15%


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

[1] National and regional trends were compared against the English Housing Survey and are within a similar range.