Report - Alienating, insecure and unaffordable: Living in Scotland's Private Rented Sector

The private rented sector has tripled in size since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament

THE private rented sector continues to have an appalling record on housing security, affordability and quality, a Common Weal report analysing new data on the experience of households in Scotland has found.

The report, ‘Alienating, insecure and unaffordable: Living in Scotland’s Private Rented Sector’, can be read in full here.

Its findings are based on data in the Scottish Household Survey 2016, published by the Scottish Government at the end of September this year.

It comes ahead of Common Weal’s convention on housing, communities and places this Saturday 7 October in Glasgow (programme of events below), where 300 people including professor Richard Murphy, Andy Wightman MSP and others will discuss new policy ideas for housing in Scotland ahead of the SNP annual conference beginning on Sunday 8 October. 

Common Weal’s report, authored by head of policy Ben Wray, argues that in light of the new figures the Scottish Government should consider reassessing the value of a private rented sector that has tripled in size under devolution. The paper argues that the trend towards privatisation must be reversed if endemic housing problems, including insecurity and unaffordability, are to be tackled.

This could be done through a combination of strengthening and increasing the diversity of social housing so that it is once again a universal service and establishing a regulatory regime for PRS that puts it on at least a level playing field with social housing in terms of quality, affordability and security

Other key points in the report include:

  • Private rent is uniquely insecure, with over two-thirds (68%) of people staying less than two years in one flat and 41% staying less than one year. The average PRS stay is 2.8 years, compared to 10.6 years in social housing, nearly five times longer.
  • Tenants in PRS accommodation are considerably more alienated from their community than in social housing. Only one in five (19%) PRS tenants had a very strong connection to their neighbourhood, compared to 33% in social housing. 40% in PRS felt they were not very or not at all connected to their neighbourhood, compared to 23% in social housing.
  • There is significant demand within PRS for moving to social housing. Approximately 40,000 people in PRS (11%) are on a social housing waiting list. Approximately 5,000 (12%) of that number have been on a waiting list for 10+ years. Nearly one-third (31%) of those are on the waiting list because they can’t afford their current housing, while 11% are on because they’ve been threatened with homelessness.
  • While it is too early to fully assess the effectiveness of new Scottish Government legislation on security of tenure and rent pressure zones, it is clear that Holyrood could go further in creating more balance of power between tenants and landlords through regulatory changes, establish rent controls which account for the quality of the property and affordability for tenants, and introduce measures to mitigate the displacing and alienating effects of gentrification.

“This report shows that the increasing privatisation of the rental market in Scotland over successive governments since devolution has created intolerable circumstances for many tenants in the private rented sector, who sadly have housing conditions significantly worse than social housing.” Ben Wray

Author of the report, Ben Wray, said: “Party conference season so far has been full of talk about housing, unsurprisingly after the Grenfell Tower tragedy woke the political class out of their sleepy complacency on what is a deep and long lasting crisis.

“In Scotland, we have the powers to rectify the housing crisis now – it’s time we made full use of them and ended once and for all Thatcher’s legacy of unequal, unaffordable and insecure housing.

“This report shows that the increasing privatisation of the rental market in Scotland over successive governments since devolution has created intolerable circumstances for many tenants in the private rented sector, who sadly have housing conditions significantly worse than social housing.

“It is time for Scottish politicians to seriously consider policies aimed at reversing the privatisation trend in the rental market, by significantly expanding the size and diversity of social housing and creating a regulatory regime for the private rented sector which enforces basic statutory levels of security, quality and affordability.”

Craig Paterson of Living Rent, Tenants Union in Scotland and campaign organisation, said of the report:  “Living Rent welcomes this analysis by Common Weal. We believe it clearly shows not only the demand for more affordable council housing but also exposes the underlying and often unexplored effects the housing crisis is having on people. 

"The statistics in this report are eye opening and should be a watershed moment for both local councils and the Scottish Government. Now is not the time to muse over these findings and let them be forgotten, rather it should be a siren call to immediate action.

“We again repeat our call for an immediate rent cap in both the public and private sector, in order to bring a halt to the spiralling cost of living and to help alleviate the continued degradation of people's mental health from shoddy housing conditions.”

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