Blog: Do people want to live in the private rented sector?

scottish-housing-aspirations-infographic-945x648By the Living Rent Campaign

Perhaps the most important question about reforming or growing the private rented sector is currently not part of the debate: do people actually want to rent from a private landlord? The sector is growing quickly, and the Scottish Government looks set to encourage that growth with new legislation and investment, in what they call a ‘tenure neutral’ approach. Is this the course of action that people want?

The Scottish Government has made several investigations into the topic, and each report all tells us what you have probably guessed already. Very few people aspire to live in the private rented sector.

  • A 2009 Scottish Government report on housing aspirations asked people to describe the home that they would be living in in ten years time. 85% said they would be owning outright or with a mortgage, and 6% said they would be renting. Of those who said they would rent their future home, the majority (59%) said they would rent from the council, 25% from a housing association, and only 11% said they would be renting privately.
  • In 2010 the Scottish Government again asked people what their preferred housing situation would be the next time they moved. 71.76% said they would own, 15.29% said they would rent from council or housing association, only 8.24% said they would rent from private landlord.
  • A 2015 qualitative study into the housing aspirations of people in Scotland, also showed that very few wanted to live in the private rented sector. Most held long-term goals to be home-owners, while many aspired to a social rented property. Renting privately did not seem to be a positive choice for the people interviewed, due to concerns about insecurity, quality, and unaffordable rents.
  • The percentage of people aspiring to live in the private rented sector may be even lower than these reports suggest. The questions about where people would like to live are couched in pragmatic language, priming the respondent to make a ‘realistic’ choice. Realistically, few of us will be able to buy a home or get the council flat we might aspire to.

    Some of the negative aspects of the private rented sector reported in these studies look set to be mitigated by the upcoming bill on a new tenancy type for the private rented sector. We may gain better security of tenure, and some provisions to tackle excessive rents. However, despite these welcome reforms the PRS will always be less secure, less affordable, and less popular than home ownership or renting from a non-profit landlord.

    So what should this mean for Scottish housing policy?

    The Scottish Government’s own research shows that people living in Scotland do not hold a ‘tenure neutral’ view. Only 8% want to live in a tenure that has grown to 14% in recent years. Given the consistency of these opinions, it seems that a ‘tenure neutral’ approach to housing is not right for Scotland. Instead the Government should adopt policies that prioritise owner occupation and non-profit housing.

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