Only half of private renters feel safe during lockdown

Shelter says England faces a ‘housing emergency’ as COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people who live in poor-quality private housing.
Rain dribbling down a window pane in front of a black and grey background.
Over a third of private renters live in poor-quality homes with electrical hazards, pests or damp-related issues, Shelter has found. Credit: Pixabay

A major new report has highlighted the plight of poor housing during the COVID-19 pandemic as only one half (51%) of private renters have felt safe at home during lockdown, Shelter has found.

The housing charity says that a ‘disastrous’ lack of social housing has plunged England into a ‘housing emergency’ as the pandemic is disproportionately affecting people who live in poor-quality private housing.

A YouGov poll of 5,177 adults for the report found that 25% of private renting adults – equivalent to 2.1 million people – said their housing situation made lockdown harder to deal with. Private renters were almost twice as likely to feel this way than tenants in secure social homes (13%).

Shelter has warned that the government’s existing provision for delivering new social homes is ‘woefully inadequate’, with current funding only being enough to provide one social home for every 96 households on the waiting list.

The charity has urged the government to intervene by investing heavily in social housebuilding in its upcoming Spending Review, which it says would allow thousands more people to live in secure and safe homes.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Our homes are our first line of defence in this pandemic. But millions have spent months trapped in private rentals they do not trust to keep them safe. And right now, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. 

“After decades of decline, a dire lack of social homes means too many people, pay too much for cramped and poor-quality housing. Or worse yet they find themselves with nowhere to live. With the stakes so high, the case for building decent social homes is clear.” 

The charity’s research stresses the extent of the need for affordable social housing in England, as too many private renters have spent the pandemic stuck in poor-quality, overpriced and overcrowded accommodation.

According to the poll carried out for the report, 19% of private renters are struggling with rent or are already falling behind, while 43% say they pay too much for the quality of home they have.

Over a third (35%) of private renters live in poor-quality homes with electrical hazards, pests, or damp-related issues, while 29% said they have a lack of indoor living space.

Shelter has called for the government to spend £12.2 billion over the next two years to fund 50,000 new social homes – almost four times the number of social homes currently delivered each year.

The charity says the programme could spur England’s recovery from COVID-19 and lead to a new boom in social housebuilding after years of decline.

Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said that Shelter’s findings show a ‘desperate need’ for the country to build more social housing.

“With more than one million households on council housing waiting lists, the Spending Review needs to give councils the powers and tools to get building council homes again, which would not only help to meet the Government’s annual 300,000 housing target, but reduce homelessness, get rough sleepers off the streets and support people’s wellbeing,” Cllr Renard said.

“This includes reforming Right to Buy and allowing councils to keep receipts in full so they can replace any social housing lost, and being able to set discounts locally.”

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