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September 23, 2022updated 04 Aug 2023 8:40am

Young and low-income private renters have 20% less space than 20 years ago

Young and low-income private renters in particular have seen living space dwindle due to increasing occupancy and stagnant housing supply.

By katharine swindells

The amount of floor space private renters have in their homes on average has fallen by over 15% in the past two decades, while owner/occupiers’ has gone up by 10%, according to data taken from the English Housing Survey.

Private renters
Floor space for low-income renters is decreasing. (Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock)

New analysis of the survey by Resolution Foundation finds that private renters are having to squeeze more people into smaller homes, with low-income families and those aged 35–44 affected most severely.

The past year has been one of rocketing rent prices, which quickly made up for the pandemic dip in 2020 to reach record levels. The ONS Rental Index, which measures all private rental tenancies in the UK, has seen rents rise exponentially throughout 2022, with the annual growth rate reaching 3.4% in August.

Even more dramatic is the data recorded by Zoopla, which tracks the rents agreed on new tenancies in that month. In June and July 2022, rents were an eye-watering 12% higher than they had been a year before.

Renters might accept these rising rates if they corresponded with bigger and better properties, but the reality is in fact the opposite. 

Space for private renters is no longer in line with the national average

Resolution Foundation’s analysis finds that the average renter occupies just 36m² of floor space per person. In comparison, the national average across owners and renters is 47m² per person, while an outright owner has 63m² – a 75% increase.

This varies by income group too. A high-income private renter has an average of 14.7% more floor space per person than a low-income private renter.

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What’s most striking is that in the late 90s, the amount of floor space a private renter had was in line with the national average at around 44m² per person. Since then, the overall average amount of floor space has increased by 6.8% (up to the 2017–19 average), while private renter floor space has fallen by 16.3%.

Some of this is to do with a reduction in floor space per dwelling, but that has only been around 6% over this time period. The main reason for this trend is that more people are occupying the same size properties, either due to families with children living in smaller homes or young renters in shared housing.

This can be seen clearly in the demographic breakdown: low-income private renters and those aged 35–44 – likely to have young families – have seen their floor space decline by more than 20% in the past two decades.

Covid-19 and working from home have worsened private rental market disparity

Although this data hasn’t yet been collected for more recent years to reflect changes caused by the pandemic, experts anticipate that Covid-19 will have only exacerbated this inequality. As housing prices rise but supply stays flat, those who can afford it opt for larger properties with home offices and outdoor space, decreasing the amount of space left for everyone else.

[Read more: London landlords rush to sell before the property bubble bursts]

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