Debbie Horne: ‘A terrifying picture of uncertainty’ - what older private renters need
On the day that Independent Age launches its new research report on how to improve the lives of older renters, Scotland policy and public affairs manager Debbie Horne writes exclusively for Scottish Housing News about the charity’s call for greater protections.
Today at Independent Age we launch our new report Homing In: How to improve the lives of older renters in Scotland. The report paints a deeply concerning picture of the uncertainty facing older private renters living on a low income, some of the most financially vulnerable in our society. Independent Age is calling on the Scottish Government to use the upcoming Housing Bill to better protect this group.
With one in seven - or 150,000 - older people now living in poverty across Scotland, and 51% of this group renting, the challenges faced by older tenants requires urgent attention. Our report looks into poor housing quality, issues of affordability, the threat of eviction and homelessness and a low awareness of rights as renters: all problems faced by people renting in later life.
The need for action is urgent. We heard from older private renters are living in properties who are damp, draughty and dangerous properties. In our polling, two in five older private renters said that they were not satisfied with the quality and standard of their home. When some of our interviewees described their rental property, it made us question whether their home even met the legal minimum set out by the Repairing Standard.
Despite this, due to how easily private renters can be evicted and the lack of social housing, those renting in later life sometimes feel unable to raise concerns. More than one in 10 (12%) told us that they would feel uncomfortable complaining about the state of their property to their landlord due to fear of negative treatment. We also found that a significant number of older renters may not feel confident enough to challenge unlawful standards. Just 30% of older private renters surveyed told us they felt fully informed of their rights as tenants, and a shocking 21% say they know nothing.
To tackle this, we’re calling on the Scottish Government to increase awareness of housing rights, establish a housing ombudsman to support tenants to challenge their landlords on issues like poor maintenance, and ensure that housing advice and advocacy services are accessible and adequately funded. Only when this takes place can older people be empowered to uphold their housing rights.
Despite the rent cap put in place by the Scottish Government, prices in the private rental market increased by 4.5% in the year to January 2023. Pensioners on a low income have little ability to absorb extra expenses, and after the cost-of-living crisis, many are at breaking point. Older people we interviewed said they were incredibly nervous at the prospect of any rent rises, and over a third of those polled said that they were anxious about how they were going to pay their rent.
It is clear that too many older people are being pushed into poverty due to unaffordable rents – shockingly after housing costs are considered, 39% (almost 4 in 10) of older renters are in poverty. That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to bring in permanent rent controls and commit to building more social housing. It must also ensure Discretionary Housing Payments, that top up Housing Benefit, are accessible and that funding for them is adequate, so that no one is forced to make dangerous cutbacks to pay their rent.
As the welcome ban on evictions – put in place by the Scottish Government during the pandemic – comes to an end next month, our report found that almost one in six (17%) older private renters are concerned that they will be evicted in the next 12 months. On top of this, three in five (59%) say searching for a new home would be difficult. Those in later life are not immune to homelessness and it is clear that the situation is getting worse.
The number of homelessness applications from people aged 65 and over in Scotland has risen 23% in the last year, to a staggering 1,100 in 2022/23 up from 891 the year before. This points to a growing crisis that cannot be ignored. To remedy this, the Scottish Government should place a duty on local authorities to help someone who is threatened with homelessness in the next six months and require landlords to inform tenants of independent advice services before, or when they serve them, an eviction notice.
While it’s clear that there is plenty to do, the Scottish Government could make a real difference to older private renters. With the Housing Bill set to be introduced to Holyrood this year, all renters could be on the cusp of gaining game-changing protections.
A safe, affordable and secure home should be a human right. Let’s work together to do all we can to make that accessible to all, no matter your age.