A sizeable proportion of private renters in England are literally becoming sick with worry because of housing problems, Shelter has claimed, but a body representing landlords has warned against stoking “needless fears”.
Almost one-in-four private renters — the equivalent to two million adults, the charity says — have felt physically ill because of housing problems or worries in the last year, according to a new study by Shelter and YouGov.
The kind of housing woes that are taking their toll on people’s physical and mental health include affording the rent, poor conditions, and the threat — real or perceived — of eviction.
According to the study, 45% of private renters (or 3.8 million adults) have experienced stress and anxiety as a direct result of their housing concerns, with nearly one in three (2.8 million adults) saying this has kept them awake at night.
Furthermore, almost the same number of renters said their housing situation had left them feeling hopeless (2.7 million adults).
“This time of year can be especially stressful and difficult for families who are struggling to cope with big rent bills, or things like cold and mouldy homes during the winter months,” said Andrea Deakin, Shelter’s emergency helpline manager.
“Every day at Shelter we see the toll that expensive, unstable or poor-quality private renting can take on people’s lives and their health. We know how easy it can be to lose hope and feel overwhelmed by these worries, but our message is that you do not have to face them alone.”
Vicki Nash, head if policy and campaigns at Mind, said: “We know housing and mental health are closely linked. Shelter’s report shows the extremely worrying proportion of people who have experienced stress and anxiety as a result of their housing. Everyone deserves a safe, stable and suitable place to live, not somewhere which is causing us to feel ‘hopeless’.
“People in the private rented sector are more likely to have to live in poor-quality accommodation, which can have a serious impact on our wellbeing, particularly for those of us living with a mental health problem.
“We want to see more research into the links between private renting and mental health, with a more joined up approach to help tackle the issues that are affecting our mental health, and are rife in the private renting sector, such as poor living conditions.”
The Local Government Association (LGA) said the findings of the study were “alarming” and called for more powers to establish local landlord licensing schemes to help tackle poor conditions in the sector and root out rogue landlords.
“It is alarming that so many private renters are suffering from housing worries, and councils want to work with government to help meet the challenges renters face,” said Councillor David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesperson.
“With more powers such as the freedom to establish landlord licensing schemes, councils would be better placed to support a good quality local private rented offer in their communities.
“While it was good the Government ended the Local Housing Allowance rate freeze, it now needs to go further in the forthcoming Budget and restore the rate to at least the 30th percentile of market rents, which would help households being pushed into financial hardship to meet their housing costs.”
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA), however, urged caution over the findings of the survey, and pointed to the English Housing Survey’s findings that 84% of private tenants are satisfied with their current accommodation.
“We accept that, unfortunately, some private sector tenants will feel unhappy and stressed as a result of their housing but the same will apply to many social housing tenants and owner occupiers,” said David Smith, the RLA’s policy director.
“We accept also that not all landlords are perfect, but the objective assessment is that the overwhelming majority of private sector tenants are satisfied with their accommodation and enjoy a good relationship with their landlord.
“It is vital that tenant groups properly reflect this, rather than stoking fears that tenants are about to be evicted for no apparent reason, live in sub-standard accommodation and are charged exorbitant rents. This is simply not true, and it is irresponsible to suggest so.
“We do all we can to support landlords to provide high standard, secure and affordable tenancies and we call on tenant organisations to work with us to help achieve this and root out the bad landlords that none of us wishes to see in the market.”