Portrait of British tenants shows average private renter may not exist

11 June 2018

  • Work together to understand and improve the new housing normal says Nationwide
  • One in three live alone, rising to 45% of retired renters and 40% of those unemployed
  • One in eight have lived in their current home for at least 10 years, though average is four
  • More than a third exist on £100 a month or less, after paying for food, rent and bills
  • Men left with over £100 more disposable income each month than women, on average

The stereotype of students eeking out a chaotic existence in a communal house no longer typifies those renting a home from a private landlord, according to research from Nationwide – in fact they are more likely to be couples (47%), families (11%) or those living alone (30%), rather than young people living with university friends (7%). More than a third of men surveyed (35%) rent a home alone, compared to one in four (25%) women, with lack of affordability or a change in life circumstances most likely to be the cause.

The YouGov survey of more than 2,000 tenants renting from a private landlord provides a broad snapshot of diverse experiences and expectations depending on age, life stage, route to renting and location – as well as highlighting many everyday realities for renters across the UK.

Nationwide’s Director of Specialist Lending, Paul Wootton, comments; “It’s clear renting is not a one size fits all experience. With one in five renting a home and many expected to rent throughout their lives, tenant’s priorities differ according to where they are in their life, in the country or in their own housing journey. But even though the housing landscape has changed dramatically, having peace of mind and the security of somewhere fit to call home is everyone’s right, whether they rent or own their property.

“Nationwide’s diverse membership includes landlords and tenants for whom providing a safe and affordable home, for themselves and those that depend on them, is a daily focus. Where older generations assumed they would own their own home, for many today long-term renting is considered the new housing normal – as it is in much of Europe. We believe it’s in everyone’s interests to work together towards ensuring the best version of that new normal that we can – working together to achieve more than we could alone. That’s why we’re already working with other industry partners*, as well as our own landlords - whether they rent out multiple properties, or just one - to support their tenants, to ensure a private rented sector that recognises those different needs and works fairly for everyone.”

For almost half (46%) of those surveyed, their main reason for renting was that they could not afford to buy. However, for more than one in ten (11%) a change in circumstances, such as the breakdown of a relationship, leaves them renting – and the likelihood of this grows with age, with 15 per cent of over 55s citing this as their main reason for renting. Having to leave a previous home (6%) and lack of social housing (4%) also feature – while others rent because of the flexibility it provides (6%) or to have easier access to their work (5%).

Housing homework
The most important consideration when choosing a home to rent for one in four (25%) was cost or affordability. For one in ten (11%) it was location or availability (9%). One in 14 (7%) chose based on the standard of the property and a further 7 per cent on its layout or facilities. One in 20 (5%) selected a property based mainly on whether the landlord accepted pets (7% of women vs 2% of men). For one in 50 (2%) the choice was made on which property landlords accepted benefit claimants.

Once they had made the decision to rent, a third (33%) found their new home through an online website – rising to 41 per cent of those living in London. More than a quarter (28%) sourced their home through a lettings agent – the preferred route chosen by 30% of those living with children. One in five (21%) turned to family and friends for help to find a home – rising to one in four (26%) of over 55s and 28 per cent of tight-knit Scots. And while overall one in 25 (4%) found their property through an ad in their local newspaper, this was the route of choice for one in 12 (8%) of over 55s.

Home is where the heart is
While more than three quarters (78%) of those surveyed, renting flats or houses, rent the whole property, one in five (19%) just rent a room – though this figure rises to more than a third (36%) of those renting in London, likely due to both affordability and availability. Of those renting the whole property, two in five (40%) choose a flat or apartment – rising to 59% in Scotland and 69% in London. One in four renters (23%) choose a terraced house, one in six (17%) a semi and one in 12 (8%) a detached property. One in 20 (5%) secure a bungalow and just one in 25 (4%) a shared house. Almost half (47%) of 18-24 year olds and more than a quarter of 25-34 year olds live in HMOs, defined as where more than three tenants live in the same house - sharing a kitchen, bathroom or lavatory. Again, higher numbers of tenants of all ages living in HMOs were seen in London (36%).

Tenancy timing
Tenants reported that landlords were most likely to have decided on the tenancy duration in almost four in every ten (38%) of cases, followed by letting agents in one in five (21%). However more than one in 20 (6%) have no tenancy agreement at all – rising to one in ten (10%) of over 55s. Tenants in the North West were most likely to have chosen the length of their own tenancy agreement, with more than one in four (26%) taking charge, outweighing the 19 per cent that did so nationally. Of those that were not mainly responsible for setting their own tenancy duration, more than half (53%) didn’t even know they could.

And once in, UK tenants renting from a private landlord stay an average of four years and two months, though almost one in three (31%) stay for five years or more and one in eight (13%) stay for a decade or more – rising to almost one in five (19%) of those renting on their own. One in five (20%) of those staying put for a decade or more are 45-54 year olds and more than one in four (28%) are 55 plus.

According to the study, the older the tenant, the longer they seem to stay, with average length of tenancy duration for 18-24 year olds at just over a year, 25-34 year olds at two years four months, 35-44 year olds at four years five months, 45-54 year olds at five years eight months and those 55+ staying six years nine months in the same home.

Frugal finances
The average UK monthly rent is £562.05, though one in seven (14%) pay more than £800. After paying for food, rent and bills, the average Brit has £314.45 monthly disposable income left – though men are left, on average, more than one hundred pounds better off than women (£372.84 v £264.69). More than a third (36%) exist on £100 or less – including 28% of men and 42% of women. Worryingly, one in eight (12%) say they have no disposable income at all – including 17 per cent with children in their household and more than one in ten (11%) of over 55s. At the other end of the spectrum, one in sixteen (6%) claim they have more than £1000 left to play with each month, including 11 per cent of those based in London. Average disposable income across the age groups was £263.83 for 18-24s, £376.98 for 25-34s, £309.61 for 35-44s, £282.08 for 45-54s, and £317.76 for those 55+.

Region Average monthly rent paid Average monthly disposable income
North £441.35 £278.14
Midlands £478.58 £274.85
East £600.72 £324.71
London £853.89 £479.66
South £625.02 £293.33
England £581.62 £317.28
Scotland £478.87 £294.00
Wales £430.39 £283.15

As for financial aspirations, most of those who were saving were either trying to build an emergency fund (32%) or saving for a holiday (31%). In fact, saving for a holiday was the priority for 42 per cent of 18-24 year olds, as it was for 36 per cent of those in London and 35 per cent of those in the North West. Almost a quarter (24%) were trying to save towards a mortgage deposit or to buy a new home, and one in 10 (10%) towards a car or other transport. One in 14 (7%) were saving for children, one in 20 (5%) for a new rental deposit, 5 per cent for furniture or white goods, and 4 per cent for further education or training (peaking at 8% of those in London and 8% of those in Wales). However, three in 10 (30%) were not saving at all, with 85 per cent of them stating it was because they could not afford to.

Rental regrets
One in five (21%) believe the worst thing about renting is that it’s a waste of money because others are profiting – though this is felt most keenly among 25-34 year olds (30%). Cost of rent was felt to be the worst for one in five (20%) – rising to 29 per cent among 18-24 year olds. Lack of security, including not knowing when they’d be asked to leave, was the most concerning aspect for one in seven (14%), though most acutely felt by 39 per cent of those not working or unemployed, 21 per cent of over 55s, and 17 per cent of those renting with children.

The major gripe for one in sixteen (6%) is the repeated cost of moving, and for another 6 per cent the poor quality of their accommodation, despite reporting. For one in 25 tenants (4%) the worst thing about renting is not being allowed to have the companionship of a pet.

Great expectations?
Asked if they could change just one thing to make renting a better experience, what that would be, more than a third (36%) said lower rent – unsurprisingly rising to 46 per cent of 18-24 year olds, 40 per cent of 25-34 year olds and 47 per cent of those living in London. Greater security was the priority for many, with one in twelve (8%) wanting a rolling tenancy term and 6 per cent wanting a longer tenancy term – both choices most popular for those in the West Midlands. One in sixteen (6%) said not having to pay a rental deposit would be the change they’d most welcome – though for a further 6 per cent, growing to 9 per cent of those in Wales, it would be being allowed to have a pet. One in 20 (5%) would most welcome a better state of property repairs – an issue called out by 10 per cent of those in the North East – and for a further 3 per cent, their rental experience could be made better just by their landlord or agent fixing an existing problem.

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