Tenants' finances in healthy state

to let signsRental sector tenants' finances are at their healthiest in five years despite the cost of paying for a roof over their head reaching new highs for two months in a row, a major lettings network has reported.

Some 7.1% of rent payments were late in October, marking the lowest proportion since LSL Property Services, which owns chains Your Move and Reeds Rains, started tracking the figures in November 2008.

But despite LSL saying October is the "healthiest month" for private rental sector tenant finances it has seen, the average monthly rent paid across England and Wales lifted to £758 per month. This is a £1 increase on September's typical figure of £757 which was already a record high.

LSL said that when its records began five years ago, almost double the proportion of rent was in arrears, at 13.1%.

It put the turnaround down to an improvement in tenants' finances generally, good sources of help available for those who are struggling and a high level of professionalism from landlords.

The findings are further evidence that some households are getting on top of their debts. The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) reported yesterday that the number of people falling into such severe arrears with their mortgage that their home is repossessed has also fallen to its lowest levels since 2008.

LSL said that despite hitting two fresh highs in a row, rents have increased at a below-inflation rate of 1.9% over the last year, underlining the "stability" of the sector.

But there were sharp variations across the country. Annual rent rises continue to be at their strongest in London, which has seen a 4.9% increase over the last year, taking average rents to £1,156.

Wales and the South East saw the second highest annual percentage increase in rents, both at 3.1%. Rents in Wales stand at £564 typically and in the South East they average £805.

Meanwhile, rents in the East of England have fallen by 3.9% annually to reach around £731. The North East saw the second biggest annual fall at 1.5%, taking the average rent to £522.

There have been recent signs of the pressure of high living costs easing, with inflation falling to its lowest level in more than a year in October.

But the string of price hikes recently announced by some energy companies has also raised new concerns that some families may be forced to to choose between heating and eating as temperatures drop.

David Newnes, director of LSL Property Services, said the continued upward march in rents is unusual for October and indicates a general lack of homes for people to choose from, despite Government schemes to widen mortgage availability and give people a helping hand out of the rental sector and onto the property ladder.

Mr Newnes said: "Until we can boost home building to the tune of an extra 200,000 a year, rents will keep rising on an annual basis.

"Yet annual rises are still below inflation. Without a doubt households don't have cash to burn at the moment. So the fact tenants have paid down late rent to such an extent is testament to the professionalism of landlords, the availability of advice for tenants and the stability of the entire industry."

The new phase of the Government's flagship Help to Buy Scheme, which offers state-backed mortgages to people with deposits as low as 5%, was launched last month.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), NatWest, Halifax and Bank of Scotland are offering products under the scheme and lenders covering most of the mortgage market will eventually come on board.

Mortgage applications worth £365 million have been received in the first month that the new scheme has been up and running.

But critics of the scheme argue that it is pushing up demand for homes without a big increase in the supply of properties on the market and the imbalance this causes is helping to fuel an increase in house prices.

They say rising house prices mean that aspiring homebuyers face having to either put more cash aside for a deposit to keep up with the increases or take out a bigger mortgage and stretch their borrowing further.

Mr Newnes continued: "The first rung of the housing ladder is a big step up. Despite a healthier circulation of mortgages, even a 5% deposit is fast becoming a challenge for many would-be first-time buyers."

LSL's study is based on rents achieved on around 20,000 properties.

Roger Harding, director of campaigns, policy and communication for charity Shelter, said the findings that rents have reached another high " marks another blow" for tenants.

He said: "Every day, Shelter's helpline hears from families forced to cut back on essentials as they struggle to pay ever more expensive rents while they see the chances of owning a home becoming increasingly out of their reach.

"These figures show that many will have no choice but to squeeze their budgets even tighter, while they pay out dead money to landlords who can evict them with just two months' notice.

"At the root of this problem is our chronic housing shortage. The only real solution to an overheating rental market is to build the affordable homes we need."

© 2013 Press Association