Better UK rental statistics urged


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The Independent Online

The raft of statistics that have helped to fuel Britain's fascination with property prices is not replicated in the rental market and should be addressed, the country's senior statistician said today.

Jil Matheson said the absence of a UK-wide official private rental index was a "key gap" in the country's analysis of the house market.

The National Statistician also called for more to be done to join up the official housing market statistics produced by a wide range of bodies to help people to spot underlying trends more easily.

Quarterly private rental figures published by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) are limited to England only, while non-official figures tend not to be broken down enough, her review said.

The VOA's figures could be combined with sources from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to produce a monthly UK-wide index, she suggested.

Private sector rents have soared over the last year as would-be home buyers have found themselves trapped in the rental sector and unable to meet mortgage lenders' toughened borrowing criteria or raise a large enough deposit.

Suggestions have also been made that many people are choosing to rent rather than buy a home due to the patchy and uncertain state of the housing market, making it even more vital that people are able to compare the potential costs of buying with renting.

A range of people and institutions rely on official housing figures to help them make decisions, such as whether to buy, rent or sell a home, decisions over house building, the setting of stamp duty levels and mortgage lending.

But it can be hard to work out what statistics are available and to piece them together, the report said. It recommended there should be at least one article a year explaining key trends in the UK housing market.

Those who publish official housing market figures should place them in greater context and provide links to other sources, the review said.

The range of organisations producing such figures includes HM Revenue and Customs, the Land Registry, the Ministry of Justice, the Office for National Statistics, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The review does not include some high-profile monthly house price studies produced by lenders such as Nationwide and Halifax.

Ms Matheson, who is the Government's principal official statistics adviser, said: "The housing market affects everyone in the UK in some way.

"Good quality statistics are essential for making informed decisions on housing, from central government planning to private individuals deciding whether to move, rent or buy."

A meeting of producers and users of the housing statistics will take place next month and a timetable will be drawn up to take the latest recommendations forward.