The UK is suffering from a homelessness epidemic as rents rise

When bailiffs suddenly threatened to change her locks, Elizabeth’s first thought was to call her landlord for help.

But it emerged the landlord had not paid her mortgage, so the single mother of three was evicted and placed in temporary accommodation by the local council in Oldham, outside Manchester.

“It’s exhausting” not having a permanent home, the 49-year-old said, adding that although the temporary housing was infested with flies and bad smells, it was “better than being on the streets.”

Elizabeth’s story has become increasingly common as the UK’s lack of affordable housing collides with rising demand, rising costs of living and tight margins faced by landlords.

Rents in the country have reached their highest levels since the Office for National Statistics began recording them in 2016, after years of stagnant housebuilding and rising demand.

This increase has left areas that did not have a significant homelessness problem suddenly facing increasing numbers of people without a place to live.

Oldham has historically been a relatively affordable place to rent, but its homelessness rate is now almost double the national average, with an 80 per cent year-on-year increase between January and April, and a similar rise in the number of children living in Oldham. Emergency housing.

“Unfortunately, the trends are not surprising and reflect that the overall housing crisis has affected all parts of the country, especially places not traditionally viewed in this way,” said Yasmine Basran, director of policy and public affairs at Homelessness. Charity crisis, adding that the chronic shortage of social housing has removed an important safety net.

The government’s latest homelessness statistics reveal rising numbers at the sharp end of the crisis. The number of children living in temporary accommodation rose by 10 percent year-on-year in the first three months of this year.

Experts said that the housing shortage in Britain was at the heart of the crisis. “It’s a big problem,” said Ben Biddle, chief executive of the National Association of Residential Landlords. He added that the solution is to “solve the housing shortage problem.”

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The shortage of rental homes has been exacerbated by challenges facing landlords, who have been hit by rising interest rates and rising mortgage costs over the past year, making buy-to-let investments less attractive.

“People who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, typically look for some affordable housing within the private rental sector,” Basran said. “But we’re seeing more competition in that regard because people’s incomes are under pressure — and landlords are looking at their options and struggling, frankly.”

A report by property consultancy Savills earlier this year concluded that net profits for private rented investors had fallen to their lowest levels since 2007, driven by rising interest rates and tax changes.

Biddle added that an increasing number of landlords were now in a “bad situation” financially. Even taking last year’s mortgage interest rate hikes “out of the equation,” returns have been “very marginal for a long period of time,” he said.

He added that although there is no evidence yet of the displacement of real estate owners from the market, there are accounts that say that “people are selling more than they are buying, and more people say they will sell than are investing.” “I’ve just spoken to a bloke whose mortgage ranges from £800 to £1,500 – and he won’t be able to pass on a £700 rent rise. . . . He may have to sell.”

Such decisions fuel poverty statistics. In the first quarter of 2023, the number of families who became homeless as a result of landlords selling or increasing rents jumped 27 percent from the previous year, according to government data.

Forced eviction rates under Section 21 of the Housing Act, in which tenants like Elizabeth are forcibly evicted even though their rents are not in violation, also rose by 41 percent during the same period.

Evictions were banned during the coronavirus pandemic, but since 2021, courts in England and Wales have gradually cleared backlogs.

Estate agents ads on properties in Greater Manchester
Rents in the UK have reached their highest levels since the Office for National Statistics began recording them in 2016 © Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg

For families who cannot pay the rent in full, local authorities step in to provide temporary housing, sometimes of very poor quality.

Dr Laura Nelson, chief executive of homelessness charity Shared Health in Greater Manchester, said local authorities often avoided setting very strict standards on temporary housing, in case it would result in “a lot of landlords selling out”.

Experts say the 2016 freeze on the Local Housing Allowance, a program aimed at raising rents for poor families living in the private rental sector, has exacerbated the problem.

An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, using data from online estate agency Zoopla, found that across Britain only 5 per cent of private rents advertised in the first quarter of 2023 could be covered using the LHA.

In Manchester, booming demand for housing has seen rents outpace LHA rates, leaving it experiencing a severe family homelessness crisis for several years. The average rent for a three-bedroom house in the city rose by 13 per cent between 2022 and 2023, according to the Office for National Statistics, while homelessness due to rising rents or landlord sales rose by 500 per cent year on year in the first quarter of this year. . .

Since the pandemic, a rise in the number of people living in Manchester and regularly commuting to London has led to increased demand, said Louise Emmott, of Kingsden Estate Agency in the city centre. She added that a “significant shortfall in student accommodation supply” was also adding to the pressures.

Back in Oldham, Elizabeth said that despite the stench in her temporary accommodation, she and her children “closed the windows for two weeks” to try to get rid of the many flies that continued to appear. “We didn’t know where they were coming from,” she said.

She eventually discovered that the toilet had been clogged for weeks before they moved in.

Arooj Shah:
Oldham Council leader Arooj Shah: “We are seeing a truly alarming rise in the number of Oldham families needing temporary accommodation” © Joel Goodman/LNP/Shutterstock

Arooj Shah, leader of Oldham City Council, apologized for the problems Elizabeth was facing, adding: “We are seeing a really worrying rise in the number of Oldham families needing temporary accommodation,” with numbers doubling in the past three years. .

Shah attributed the increase to “the failure of the private rented sector.”

The Department of Settlement, Housing and Communities said it had provided £2 billion to councils over three years to help combat homelessness.

She said: “Councils have a duty to ensure no family is left without a roof over their head, and government funding can be used to help people find a new home, work with landlords to prevent evictions, or pay for temporary accommodation.”

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