Life off the ladder: Are we better off without mortgage debt?

Kate Hilpern meets four renters
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The Monday to Friday renter

Bethany Rex, 22, is a media co-ordinator for Aesthetica magazine. She lodges in a house in York during the week, for which she pays £400 a month.

"Last September, I was about to go on holiday for two weeks when I got offered a job I really wanted. I was living in Derby with my parents and the job was in York, but I was excited about moving somewhere new and living on my own. Buying wasn't an option and With a budget of £600-£700 a month, I was confident I could rent a modern apartment in the city centre, as many of my friends have in places such as Manchester.

I could not have been more wrong and as I rang around each estate agent hearing, 'No', 'No', 'No', I panicked. Most one-bedroom flats in the city centre are either holiday rentals or way out of my price range. They also wanted me to sign a 12-month contract – what if my job didn't last that long?

I Googled "short-term lettings in York" and the weekly rental service Monday to Frida popped up. That could work, I decided, especially when I saw two really nice-looking homes with rents of just £375 a month and no deposit required. I sent an email to both home owners and one invited me to meet her. I felt nervous, a bit like going for a job interview, but we hit it off and the house – an 1830s four-bedroom semi – was really homely. If it didn't work out, I felt reassured that I could move out any time, but in fact, it's been a very easygoing arrangement. During the evenings, we either watch television together or I work upstairs. Occasionally, we go out into York together too.

Most weekends, I go to my parents' or to see my partner, who lives in Edinburgh, and I spend one weekend a month at home now too, so my monthly rent has gone up to £400. The location has been the biggest compromise. I'm 22 and wanted to be in the centre of York life, but I'm two miles out."

The struggling renter

Jayne Pendlebury, 42, lives in a terraced house in Bolton with her 21-year-old daughter. She pays £85 a week rent

"I've always worked. For the past nine years, I've been a driver the ambulance service. I was bringing home £1,600 a month and so even though I was supporting my daughter to train as an accountant, we lived well, and paying the £85-a-week rent was easy. But in the summer of 2009, someone drove into the minibus I was driving for work and I've been left with several injuries. I can no longer lift and since my job is 80 per cent lifting, I can no longer do my job.

I was on full pay for a few months, but when I was put on to half-pay plus sick pay and then, four months ago, no pay, I have got behind on everything. I filled in endless forms and a month later, in October, I started receiving a minimal amount through benefits. My daughter is paying me £40 a week, but I'm still short. I prioritise the rent, but the other aren't getting paid because I've run out of savings and my daughter can only find work in a call centre. I have already received a court summons for failure to pay council tax.

I'd very much like to go back to work, albeit in another capacity. In the meantime, I'm completely confused by all the paperwork for benefits and I couldn't even afford to photocopy it when the National Housing Federation offered to step in and help. If my daughter weren't living here, I'd have my whole rent and council tax paid, but she can't afford her own place.

What has struck me most about all this is the speed at which everything spiralled out of control. One day, life is ticking nicely along, the next you don't know how you're going to keep a roof above your head."

The frustrated renter

Neil Farrell, 29, is a self-employed recruitment consultant. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in London through Domusnova estate agents, for which he pays £1,600 a month.

"I've been renting in Notting Hill for six years. The plan was to save up to buy a property, but like many of my peers I have been perpetually priced out of the market. I hear it time and time again – each time you think you've saved enough, the amount required for a deposit goes up. It's frustrating because renting is throwing money away. Putting money into a mortgage is far more prudent financially.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to get a place for around £650,000, but last year, I left my job in a multinational company to set up my own financial services recruitment consultancy, Farrell Associates. It's going really well and I think it won't be too long before I can reasonably afford a place. But despite knowing I could afford the mortgage payments at the moment, it would still be near-on impossible to get the mortgage.

Mind you, I don't envy many of my friends who bought in the property peak of 2006-07, when just about anyone would give you a mortgage, even a 100 per cent one. Many got caught in that west London bubble, where the assumption was 'buy now and you'll get 30 per cent back'. That didn't happen, leaving most of them regretting it and some with negative equity.

Until last summer, I shared a place with a guy and we paid £1,200 each rent. This place isn't quite so nice, but it's a one-bedroom Victorian ground-floor flat with about 800 square feet and I've been told it should be priced nearer £2,000 a month.

I can't think of a single friend of mine who has bought their first house in the past two years. Many of us feel obstructed from doing so and I can't help feeling those aged 20 to 25 are completely screwed because there'll be even less chance of getting on the property ladder."

The happy renter

Photographer Peter Barry, 69, lives with his partner, Pip Cole, in Soho, central London. They pay £340 a week for a one-bedroom flat.

"Circumstances threw us into renting, but now we love it. There's much more choice with properties and you can move in so much more quickly, and with so much less stress, too. With the place where we live now, we said, "Wow" when we saw it and two weeks later, we were living there. Plus, if anything goes wrong, the landlord fixes it straight away.

When we met, Pip and I both owned our own flats, but we sold them to buy a place in Spain 10 years ago. Three years later, we realised how much we missed London and came home. We desperately wanted to live in Soho. We love the buzz of it and all the media people are here, which makes it easier for me to find work. But we'd lost money on our Spanish property, so buying was out of the question.

At first, we lived in a flat with great views and six months ago, Greater London Properties found us this fantastic one-bedroom flat in Berwick Street, with lovely wooden floors and great light. We're right in the middle of the marketplace, so we know all the stallholders and it's just like a village. It's a place we'd never have been able to afford to buy.

I like the sense of freedom renting gives you. You have this great feeling that you could move on whenever you want. And renting certainly stops you hoarding. You find you get rid of so much more stuff that would otherwise just pile up.

Our flat is no less a home than if we owned it. In fact, we moved in on a Sunday morning and by the end of Monday, we'd got everything unpacked and on shelves and felt like we'd been here for months."