When Will The Sword of Damocles Fall?

December 7th, 2016 | Posted by Jacky Peacock in Housing

Just the thing to brighten up a dull November day – a lively meeting at Age UK London to talk about – and with – older private sector tenants.

It reminded me that, when it comes to protesting about the travails of private renters, it’s the over 60s who should be leading the way, despite the media image of the sector as ‘generation rent’.

Older tenants carry the most powerful message.  It’s one thing to picture 25 or even 35 year olds with shorthold tenancies which offer no security of tenure beyond the first six months.  It can even be seen as quite exciting, moving several times every few years and experiencing new surroundings and new neighbours.

It gets less ‘fun’ as people get older.

The private rented sector has grown rapidly in the last ten years, from 11.7% to 19% of households across England and it now accounts for 26% of all London households. House prices have led to more people relying on private renting for much longer periods of their lives, and the media is starting to wake up to the impact on families living without security of tenure.

If landlords decide they want tenants to move out, or if unaffordable rent increases force families to trade down, the impact on children who have to change school and lose school friends, etc. can have a devastating effect. So why have we yet to see any commitment from the government to address this issue?

I believe it’s because we haven’t yet heard loud and clear the voice of older people in this situation.  The adventure of moving home often when you are young becomes a lot less appealing if you are in your eighties or nineties.  Older people may not have work or school ties, but they are still very likely to have friends and neighbours to keep an eye out for their welfare, and will usually have trusted GPs and hospital consultants.

Pensioners with Rent Act tenancies offering security and fair rents are declining steadily because shorthold tenancies have been the norm for all new lettings since 1989. Conversely, the number of older tenants living with the insecurity of a shorthold tenancy is rising rapidly.

While there are no clear facts about this (a gap in statistics which should be filled urgently), the last survey of private tenants undertaken by YouGov for Shelter in July 2015, indicates that there are likely to be around 32% of older private tenants in this situation, which on my reckoning means more than 12,000 London pensioners.

As I put it in my talk to older renters at the Age UK London event:

“It doesn’t matter how long the tenancy actually lasts, tenants surely live in the knowledge that they could be evicted at any time, even if they have been a perfect tenant.  Shorthold tenancies are like the sword of Damocles – you never know when the eviction notice will fall.”

Jacky Peacock, OBE, is the director of Advice4Renters, an advice agency specialising in legal advice to private tenants www.advice4renters.org.uk

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