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May 18, 2022

Improving tenancy sustainment in the private rented sector

Guillermo Rodríguez-Guzmán

In this article, our Head of Evidence and Data, Guillermo Rodríguez-Guzmán identifies the key learnings and recommendations that could help to tackle tenancy insecurity in the private rented sector. Download our report 'Tackling tenancy insecurity to prevent homelessness - what works?' to explore the evidence further.

Across the UK, the private rented sector (PRS) has doubled since the early 2000s. With over 4.5 million households renting privately, the PRS overtook the social rent sector in size 2011/12. But the widespread use of provisional contracts, shorthold tenancies, and the possibility of eviction from landlords who have the power to end contracts makes living in the PRS insecure for many.

For those in the poorest 10%, housing costs are unmanageable by any yardstick: often exceeding 60% across Great Britain.  On this basis, it is not surprising that many people presenting as homeless did so after loss of their existing tenancy – 22% in the PRS and 9% in a social tenancy. Local Authorities have also increased their reliance on the PRS to house people experiencing homelessness, with around 30% of homeless cases in England in 2021 the local authority’s relief duty ended by securing accommodation in the PRS. 

So, tenancy sustainment is important both for homelessness prevention, and to ensure people in their path to recovery remain housed.

Addressing the question of tenure insecurity and its role causing and perpetuating homelessness is long overdue, and the precarious nature of the PRS has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing the discussion of renters’ rights and security of tenure to the forefront.

With this increased attention, a our new report written with the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) highlights key interventions relating to security of tenure within the PRS, and possibilities for policy and service development that recognises the importance of secure housing in resolving and preventing homelessness.

The report considers how Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs) and the Section 21 mechanism for regaining possession in England and Wales under the Housing Act 1988 have become a key focus for policy makers and practitioners involved in trying to tackle homelessness. 

Drawing from evidence collected through the CHI’s Evidence & Gap Maps, the report considers a number of critical studies, systematic reviews and impact evaluations to examine the primary drivers of tenancy insecurity and what could be done about it.

Key learnings and recommendations

There are multiple opportunities ahead to improve tenancy sustainment in the PRS, and based on evidence set out in the report, we’d like to put forward key learning points for the development of recommendations:

Housing affordability, availability and access are all acting as major barriers for accommodation-based interventions that aim to prevent and relieve homelessness.
This may be acted upon by boosting tenants’ capacity to pay for accommodation with the support of housing-related benefits, boosting supply of truly affordable housing, and incentivising landlords to offer and maintain properties for people living on low incomes 

Changes to the legislation around evictions will remove ‘no fault’ evictions and continue transitioning to a more protective environment for renters in England and Wales.
Mediation and legal advice for tenants could play a complementary role in securing better outcomes for people facing evictions. Current programmes being piloted in the UK could offer the evidence needed to scale this type of support in the future. 

Pre-tenancy training programmes are commonplace in the UK with many Local Authorities and third sector organisations offering these services.
However, there is a lack of robust evaluations of their efficacy and cost-effectiveness so it is paramount to explore which of these models, if any, can prove effective to support people to stay housed.

Local policy should support and encourage private landlords willing to rent to tenants with experiences of homelessness.
There are different strategies that could be considered including cash incentives, guarantees, deposit bonds and tax breaks, but their impact on access and tenancy sustainment are still to be tested.

Forms of intensive case management are effective for those who require support for multiple disadvantages, with unconditional housing such as Housing First, demonstrating strong outcomes.
These models have operated in the private and social rented sector since their inception, and the ongoing National Evaluation of Housing First in England should provide important new evidence to support the roll out of these approaches.

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