Britain to become a nation of renters

Millions of young adults 'will never be able to afford their own homes'

Andy McSmith
Tuesday 31 May 2011 00:00 BST

A generation of young British adults is close to giving up hope of ever owning their own place to live. A startling new survey reveals that while the great majority of young Britons from "Generation Rent" would like to become homeowners, most believe they will be unable to raise the mortgage they require to get on to the property ladder.

A combination of continually rising house prices and pessimism about the future is threatening to send into reverse the explosion in home ownership stimulated by Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago, making Britain more like Europe, where living in rented property is the norm. The findings, issued by the Halifax, coincide with a separate report from the housing charity Shelter which reveals that the number of mortgages offered in April slumped to the lowest level since records began. Just 29,355 mortgages were granted, 18 per cent fewer than during the same month last year.

The online survey of 8,000 Britons aged 20 to 45 by the polling company Populus, which the Halifax drew on, found that more than three-quarters who do not own property would like to, but 64 per cent believe that their prospects of ever buying their own home are nil. The survey also found that 84 per cent of first-time buyers were put off by a belief that the banks do not want to lend to them and would find excuses to say no, while 67 per cent thought there was little point in applying at all because of the probability that they would be turned down.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: "It used to be the accepted path that you grew up, moved out of the family home and started a life of your own.

"Our research shows a fundamental shift in society, with young people today unable to make the same life choices as their parents and being robbed of the opportunity to lead full and independent lives."

Alison Blackwell, the author of a report by the National Centre for Social Research based on the survey, said: "The phenomenon of 'Generation Rent' could have major socio-economic implications. It would mean fewer homeowners being able to buy and therefore fund the construction of the new homes required in the UK to meet demand, resulting in a slowing down in the housing market."

She added: "It could open up a widening of the wealth gap that already exists between homeowners and non-homeowners. And people in 'Generation Rent' risk insufficient finances at retirement."

But a separate report published yesterday by the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank warned of the risks involved in allowing a mortgage free-for-all. The report argues that one of the reasons house prices are so high is that it is too easy for buyers to raise mortgages they can barely afford.

They suggest that the Government should introduce rules to restrict the size of a mortgage to 90 per cent of the price of a property, and three-and-a-half times the household's annual income. They argue that this would prevent another housing bubble.

The IPPR plan would require first-time buyers to save up thousands of pounds towards a deposit on their first home, as young couples were forced to do a generation ago – but the Halifax survey suggests that they are unlikely to do it, because they do not think the banks or building societies will lend to them anyway.

"Britain has suffered four housing bubbles in the past 40 years, each of which contributed to major economic and social problems," said the IPPR's director, Nick Pearce.

"We must learn the lessons from this economic history. A central plank of economic policy should be to target moderate increases in house prices, rather than to allow runaway house-price inflation, which is always damaging in the long run."

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