My Lords, the Government’s primary assessment of the private rented sector is through the annual English Housing Survey. This allows us to make a robust statistical estimate of the age of households in the private rented sector. Taking older people to mean those aged 65 or above, the latest survey estimates that there are 380,000 households where the household reference person is 65 years or older.
My Lords, higher costs for older private tenants—40% of income compared to just 14% for owner-occupiers—insecurity, with evictions now the main reason for older renters leaving, and projections that by 2040 one-third of people over 60 will be privately renting are a toxic combination. Does the Minister agree that ending the current Section 21 and having a permanent right to stay, as in Scotland, should be an urgent priority before this becomes a crisis?
My Lords, it is important to keep this in perspective. That 380,000 represents 6% of the private rented sector. That figure has undeniably gone up, although it has gone down from last year, so I hasten to add that the pattern is not uniform. Many people choose to rent; it is not wise to assume that all these people renting do not want to do so. There are challenges, some of which are met by the Prevention of Eviction Act, as the noble Baroness will know, and others by the Fitness for Habitation Act which we recently passed. So I do not share her analysis.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the number of older people in private rented accommodation is rising and that that trend is likely to continue? If he does, will he tell the House what he is doing to address the resulting policy challenges?
My Lords, as I said, we cannot assume that this is uniform. According to our figures, last year there were some 40,000 fewer such people, although that is not necessarily statistically significant. I do not think we can draw conclusions. The figure has been on an upward trend for the last 10 years but there was more than a blip last year. As I have indicated, the private rented sector in general undoubtedly presents challenges. We know that 25% of it is unfit for habitation, although that is better than a decade ago when the figure was 45%. We are seeking to meet those challenges, which apply across the board, not just to older people.
My Lords, was this not an inevitable consequence of the Blair and Brown period, when there was an all-time low in new council housing builds? So those 13 long years not take quite a time to turn round? Are not local authorities now being encouraged again to take part in building council houses for all ages?
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the borrowing cap for local authorities has been raised, which undoubtedly boosts the possibility of housing by local authorities, as he indicated. As I said, there are challenges out there, but I would caution against assuming that all older people do not want to rent and that all of them are unhappy with their rental. That is not the case.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Government pay out some £21 billion a year in housing benefit. Does he agree that this huge sum is the consequence of high rents caused, in turn, by a shortage in the supply of homes to rent? Would it not be better to invest in social housing, using future savings on the housing benefit bill to help fund building more homes for social rent?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there is a problem with supply. As he well knows, that problem existed in the coalition years as well and we are seeking to address it. Last year was the best one for new homes for over a decade. I agree that we need more social housing. That is the principal reason why the borrowing cap for local authorities was lifted.
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the Government’s rent a room scheme, which has the dual benefit of providing up to £7,500 for the home owner and releasing furnished accommodation for the rental sector. However, this scheme is not well known. Will my noble friend tell us what more the Government might consider doing to promote it?
My noble friend is right: it is a good scheme that perhaps has not had the take-up we hoped for, and it might benefit from added publicity. I will take that message back because it is a good scheme and we are trying to do many things to get the housing problem under control. That is just one more, and it comes at a low cost.
My Lords, I would be interested to know if the noble Lord has evidence of that happening. In short, we have not made that connection but if he has evidence, I would be very keen to see it and we can take it forward and share the results with the whole House.