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Britain’s rental market at ‘boiling point’ as prices skyrocket and tenants compete for mouldy, cold homes

Startling data released this week showed rental costs have increased at the fastest rate on record

Joe Middleton
Sunday 24 March 2024 12:54 GMT
Martin Lewis warns renters in this area could be owed thousands by landlords

Louise, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has lived in the same two-bedroom flat in north London since 1996, during which time the property has never been renovated or refurbished.

But last year her landlord told her the rent would soon be increasing by 25 per cent, a startling £325 extra a month. She is one of millions of Britons in the grip of a “cost of renting” crisis as prices skyrocket, no-fault evictions surge, and properties across the country are mouldy, damp and cold.

The average rent in the UK is now £1,238, which is £102 higher than 12 months ago after a record rise of 9 per cent.

Louise said: “I’m on fixed income, there is nothing I can do. I don’t work due to my health issues, so it’s just more stress and depression. And stress makes my multiple sclerosis worse, and has left me practically housebound. I can’t actually do anything, I haven’t got any money to do anything... I don’t know where I am going to get the money from.”

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The 58-year-old, who was diagnosed with MS in 2012, worked for a charity for many years before her ill-health forced her to stop shortly after the pandemic ended, leaving her with a limited budget.

She said: “I was hoping I would be able to live here until I retired but now I’m already looking to move away from London back to where my parents are in Wales, where I have friends and family for support, because having MS means you have to rely more on the people around you.”

Louise said the situation in the capital has got worse and her north London neighbours have also had “substantial” rent increases.

Data released this week showed rental costs have increased at the fastest rate on record as tenants struggle to afford inflation-busting monthly outlays.

Office for National Statistics figures show London has had the highest rent hike, at 10.6 per cent, way above inflation, which is running at 3.4 per cent.

Rapidly escalating rental costs are just one element of the UK’s dysfunctional housing market. The dilapidated state of homes in the UK has been put into sharp focus ever since the death of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy who died after breathing in black mould while living in a housing association property.

In England, no-fault evictions, which occur when people who rent their homes are removed without landlords having to provide a reason under a Section 21 notice, surged by almost 50 per cent last year, compared with 2022.

Campaigners say the private rental market is at “boiling point” and that successive governments’ failure to build affordable homes has left people fighting for “overpriced and often shoddy rentals”.

Eilidh Keay, who lives in Edinburgh, had to leave her home as the landlord wanted to sell the property, and was forced to pay out an additional £150 per month for rent in a new place.

In Scotland there is a rent cap, which limits the amount a landlord can increase the rent. Since the landlord sold up, she had to find another property in a city with high private rental costs.

Eilidh, who is a public affairs worker, said: “The prices of things are quite stark. Edinburgh has always been expensive and I don’t think that’s going to change, but the escalation in prices in the last few years has been rapid.

“You used to be able to get a one-bed [flat] in Edinburgh on a lower salary, but now it’s completely unreasonable and it costs £1,000 a month. Flat-sharing is also becoming really expensive. I know friends who are moving from the centre to further out just due to the cost.”

She added that high rents and the cost of living crisis have altered aspects of her life, and she now tends to socialise with her friends at home to cut down on costs, rather than go to the pub.

The 26-year-old said: “That’s what I think is one of the things that’s so bad about these extreme rents everyone is facing across the country, as it takes money out of the economy. All this money is just going into people’s buy-to-let mortgages and pensions, and this is in part why the high street is suffering, because nobody has any disposable income any more – it’s all been absorbed by the wealthy.”

Eilidh, who said any further increases in rent could force her out of Edinburgh altogether, favours rent controls and would like the government to address the poor quality of private rented stock.

A report last year from think tank the Resolution Foundation said up to 2.6 million people aged 18-34 were living in poor-quality housing. This was defined as homes that did not have fully working plumbing, or where damp or mould were present.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: “Private renting has reached boiling point. Decades of failure to build genuinely affordable social homes have left many people with no choice but to put up and shut up in private renting, where competition for overpriced and often shoddy rentals is fierce.

“Landlords can hike up the rent, safe in the knowledge that if their tenant can’t pay, they can serve them a no-fault eviction notice and get someone else in who can.

“With only two months to find another place after a no-fault eviction, too many people are left scrambling to find somewhere affordable to live and, in some cases, being pushed into homelessness.

“To help struggling families keep hold of their homes, the government must keep its promise to renters and pass a watertight Renters (Reform) Bill, without caveats or loopholes, to ban no-fault evictions. However, the only lasting solution to the housing emergency is to invest in truly affordable social homes with rents tied to local incomes.”

Aditi Jehangir, secretary of tenants’ union Living Rent, said: “Rent in Scotland is completely unaffordable and our homes are falling apart at the seams. The government’s response has been to introduce a complicated, unworkable, rent adjudication system that puts the onus on tenants to hold their landlords to account.

“The average tenant already spends at least a third of their income on rent. Tenants should not be forced to choose between remaining in the communities they love or being able to afford to live.

“The temporary and partial nature of the rent cap has underscored the need for more robust, long-term solutions, that limit rents between tenancies, not a return to the free market.”

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