Insecure private renting leaves families worried and unsettled. Let’s fix it

Published: by John Bibby

Private renting in England is exceptionally insecure. After the end of a typical six or twelve month contract, renters have no guarantee that their landlord will renew their tenancy or whether they will be asked to leave.

As a result, renters worry about losing their home and are put under financial strain by frequent moves. Ultimately renting insecurity is helping to fuel rising homelessness – and loss of a private rented tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness.

This is why we’ve been campaigning for a change in the law to make private renting much more secure, by giving renters five year tenancies.

The effects of insecurity are bad for any renter, but they’re especially bad for the increasing number of parents who are trying to juggle the stresses of being a private tenant with the demands of raising a child.

Today, we are publishing new research that shows the particularly heavy toll that insecurity is taking on parents who rent, and their children. It shows that their lives as renters are worried and unsettled.

Renting families: worried and unsettled

If you’re bringing up children, the last thing you want to worry about is whether you are going to be able to keep your home when your tenancy runs out, or if you will have to move. You want to be able to focus on your child.

But this is exactly what lots of renting parents go through. Last year, we heard from a renting mother, Rachael, who summed up what it feels like better than I can:

It is a horrible way to live. It never feels like home, and the anxiety it causes is immense… This is not the way I wanted to bring my son up, I wanted him to start and finish at the same school with his friends. I wanted him to feel settled, to have pets to love, to plant flowers, vegetables and fruit in the garden and watch them grow.

Our new research shows that many renting parents feel exactly the same as Rachael.

One in ten said they believed the insecurity of renting had stopped their child from feeling settled, just like Rachael’s son. One in three, said they had worried about losing their home in the last year. And two in five said they worried that they may be forced to move their child’s school as a result of being forced to move home. (You can find more detail on these statistics in our briefing here.)

stability numbers

These statistics all represent tens or even hundreds of thousands of renting families who feel worried and unsettled. And the high incidence of anxiety amongst renting families is all the more important because the number of them is ballooning.

In the last decade, the proportion of families with children private renting has gone up from only one in ten to almost one in four. And if the trend continues, in just a decade there will be more families private renting than the number that own their own homes.

So it’s absolutely essential that we make private renting work for families.

Only changing the law will fix it

The fundamental thing that makes renting insecure is the fact that renters have very little legal power to stay in their home for the long-term.

Most renters have a six or twelve month contract – and they have next to no legal certainty that they will be able to stay for longer when their contract ends.

This isn’t the way things work in our nearest neighbouring countries. There, the law guarantees private renters a much longer period when they know they will be able to stay unless they do something wrong or their landlord needs the property back.

So, if they fall into serious rent arrears, for example, their landlord could still regain possession of their property, but they couldn’t be evicted for just making one late payment. And tenants still have the flexibility to bring their tenancy to an end themselves, by giving a period of notice.

The government has recognised that insecurity is a growing problem for the increasing number of families who rent and that having more of these sorts of longer contracts that tenants can end early would be desirable. For example, in the run-up to publishing the new Housing White Paper, the government highlighted the problem of private renters feeling insecure and worried about losing their homes.

But at present they have only proposed trying to encourage landlords to offer longer tenancies on a voluntary basis.

The problem with this is that we know families with kids already experience discrimination in the rental market. We’re never going to be able to make sure that every renting family that needs a longer tenancy gets one if we rely on voluntary measures alone.

We need to change the law, to guarantee renting families more security. Join our campaign today, to change the law and make renting secure enough for the parents and children who live in it.