Fifth of English households rent privately as ownership falls to 30-year low

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One in five households in England are living in private rented accommodation, while home ownership has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years, according to official figures.

The 19.9% figure for private rentals in 2015/16 was up from 19% the previous year and continued a sharp upward trend in recent years after decades in which it hovered around the 10% mark.

The total number of privately renting households has swollen by around a million since 2010 to hit a post-1980 high of 4.5 million.

And the English Housing Survey, released by the Department for Communities and Local Government, found that private renters pay a significantly greater share of their income on housing costs, at an average 35%, compared with 28% for social renters in council or housing association properties and 18% for owner-occupiers.

Meanwhile, home ownership eased down from 63.3% in 2013/14 and 63.6% in 2014/15 to 62.9% last year - the lowest proportion since 1985 and eight percentage points down on its peak of 70.9% in 2003.

Councils issued a plea to Government for action to boost social housing, which declined to 17.2% of households, after first falling behind the private rented sector in 2011/12.

And Labour accused Conservatives of presiding over "seven years of failure on housing", pointing out that the total number of home owners has fallen by 200,000 on their watch since 2010, after rising throughout most of Labour's time in office.

Shadow housing minister John Healey said: "The number of people stuck in an insecure and increasingly expensive private rented sector has grown dramatically over the last seven years.

"Since 2010, the number of households renting privately has ballooned by over a million.

"After seven years of failure on housing, not only has home ownership fallen, but affordable housebuilding has hit a 24-year low and rough sleeping has more than doubled. 

"Conservative ministers are out of ideas and have no long-term plan to fix the cost of the housing crisis."

Local Government Association housing spokeswoman Judith Blake said the figures showed "a desperate need to reverse the long-term and continuing decline in council housing" in England.

"A drop in social and affordable rented homes is combining with private sector rents rising above incomes to make it more and more difficult for people to get on the housing ladder," she said.

"It is pushing more families into the more expensive private rented sector, driving up housing benefit spending and rents and increasing homelessness.

"Councils need powers to ensure a mix of affordable homes - to rent and buy - are built for those people that need them and which are vital to help more families afford to save up for a deposit to buy a home."

A Government spokesman said that - after three years in which home-ownership rates remained broadly stable - the Conservatives had "halted" a period of decline which began under Labour's watch in 2003. Numbers of homes purchased in 2010 were 40% lower than in 1997, when Labour came to power, the spokesman pointed out. 

"This Conservative Government has halted the decline in home-ownership that began under Labour, when home-buying plummeted by 40% and house-building fell to its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s," said the spokesman.

"New house-building starts and the number of first-time buyers are now at the highest level for almost a decade.

"But we know that there is more to do to fix this country's broken housing market and to make Britain a country that truly works for everyone.

"That's why we've set out a comprehensive package of reforms in our Housing White Paper to build more homes and more quickly.

"We're also backing new legislation to prevent more people from becoming homeless in the first place, improving rights for renters and driving rogue landlords out of the market."

Graeme Brown, interim chief executive at housing charity Shelter, said the continued decline in home ownership was "yet another symptom of our failed house-building system". A "bold new approach" would be needed from ministers to solve the crisis, he said.

"Big developers and land traders are making millions from a rigged system while families struggle with huge renting costs and have to give up on owning a home of their own, which has become nothing more than a pipe dream," said Mr Brown.

"For decades we've relied on this broken system and, despite the sweeteners offered to developers to build the homes we need, it simply hasn't worked. The current way of building homes has had its day and it has failed the nation."