Rising rents and pensioner poverty could be ‘catastrophic’ for older Scottish renters
Older Scottish renters living on a low income urgently need greater protections in the upcoming Housing Bill, according to Independent Age amid a new report into the reality of renting in later life in Scotland.
The charity supporting older people in poverty said that renters in later life face a “catastrophe” if action is not taken, with record rent increases in recent years and a growing number of older renters across the nation being pushed into poverty.
The organisation today launches its report Homing in: How to improve the lives of older Scottish renters, which uses polling, government data and a survey of over 500 older renters.
It found that almost two in five (39%) older Scottish private renters now live in poverty, up from 24% a decade before. Independent Age said that older renters on a low income are “terrified” their rent could rise after the end of the current rent rise cap on March 31st.
The new report has unearthed older tenants’ daily challenges with affordability, the threat of eviction and poor standards. The charity found that less than a third of older renters (30%) feel fully informed of their housing rights while one in five (21%) say they know nothing. Independent Age believes that this worryingly low level of awareness among tenants of their rights in the private rental sector is leaving poor and sometimes unlawful practice unchallenged.
The charity calls on the Scottish Government to ensure:
- Private rents are controlled at an affordable level for older people on a low income.
- Landlords are required to inform tenants of independent housing advice services when they serve them notice.
- A housing ombudsman is established, giving private tenants the ability to challenge issues like poor maintenance.
- Tenants are informed of their rights as renters.
In Scotland, almost two in five (39%) older private renters live in poverty, while more than a quarter (28%) of those surveyed say they have less than £200 disposable income a month after paying rent. In the last year, over 4 in 5 (81%) say they have faced a rise in rent of up to £50 a month.
With the temporary limit to rent increases set to end next month, the charity has heard from older people who, faced with increasing costs from all angles, including rent, Council Tax and energy, are struggling to pay their rent.
An older person who is looking for a new property to rent told the charity: “it is really scary how much starting rents have increased in the last six months”.
Independent Age warned that without action to ensure housing affordability in the private rented sector, more older tenants across Scotland will be forced to make difficult decisions such as making further cutbacks to food, energy and water to cover rent.
Housing quality and standards
65% of older Scottish peoples’ homes are in a state of disrepair. Independent Age’s survey found that 40% of older private renters were not satisfied with the standard or quality of their home, however polling found that more than 1 in 10 (12%) older private renters questioned feel uncomfortable raising concerns with their landlord, for fear of negative treatment.
Independent Age says that problems with damp, heating and energy efficiency come up frequently for older renters. One older person said that their house was “never warm… there is a smell of damp in the winter months. There is a huge opening in the back wall where the boiler is located. The wind whistles into the flat.” Another said that their home was cold “even in the summer.”
The charity said that not only are some of the conditions described by interviewees likely in violation of the Repair Standard that sets out a minimum standard that rental properties must meet, but tenants are scared to ask for necessary and reasonable repairs in case they are served with a ‘revenge eviction’. One man said: “I know if I complain to my landlord, it will get me nowhere but homeless.”
Evictions and homelessness
The report reveals that almost one in six (17%) older private renters are worried that their landlord will evict them in the next 12 months. Almost three in five (59%) say that searching for a new home would be difficult, likely due to older people sometimes needing special adaptations, such as a ground floor flat, and the growing unaffordability of rents. There has been a 23% rise in the number of older people experiencing homelessness in the last year, up from 891 people in 2021/22 to 1100 in 2022/23.
Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of Independent Age, said: “For all of us, an affordable, safe and secure home is essential for our wellbeing and should be the norm. That’s why it is a catastrophe that, for many Scottish older renters on a low income, this is far from the reality.
“The Scottish Government made positive moves in recent years to protect tenants. But with many of these protections from eviction and rent increases coming to an end soon, we’ve spoken to many people renting in later life who are absolutely terrified about what will happen over the coming months.
“The Housing Bill is a once in a generation opportunity for the Scottish Government to make sure everyone has a home that is affordable, kept to a decent standard and free from the threat of eviction and homelessness. We hope they take action to ensure that all Scottish renters can live with dignity, no matter their age.
Independent Age is calling for the Scottish Government to:
- Establish a housing ombudsman to give tenants the power to challenge their landlords on poor maintenance and ensure that housing advice and advocacy services are accessible and properly funded so renters are aware of their rights.
- Introduce a permanent system of rent controls so homes are affordable for older people on a low income, commit to building more social housing and increase access to, and funding of, Discretionary Housing Payments that support those on Housing Benefit who have a rent shortfall.
- Ensure tenants, including those in later life on a low income, are informed of their rights.
- Enshrine the right to adequate housing in Scots Law
- Place a duty on local authorities to help someone 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.
- Independent Age is also calling on the UK Government to commit to uprating Local Housing Allowance every year so that Housing Benefit matches rises in local rents.
Scottish Labour older persons champion, Colin Smyth, said: “This damning report shows the toll the housing crisis is taking on older adults in Scotland.
“Once again older people in Scotland are paying a harsh price for the SNP-Green government failures.
“Too often the rights of older people are compromised and their wellbeing is ignored – that is why we need an independent Commissioner in Scotland to defend these rights.
“I will continue working to introduce an Commissioner for Older People to represent their interest on everything from housing to healthcare and more.”