Charting trends in private renting in England

News | Posted on Tuesday 12 March 2024

In this feature on the private rented sector, we explore the complexity of this part of the housing market and its implications on society.

Housing policy

Housing policy, at its highest strategic levels, tends to seek the optimal balance of owner occupation, social housing and private renting. The private rented sector (PRS) has grown markedly, roughly doubling in size from 2000 and now accommodating around 20 per cent of households.

Private rented sector

Staff within the School for Business and Society have a long-standing interest in the PRS and have contributed substantially to a better understanding of this hugely complicated part of the market. Much of this work points towards the value of a complex systems approach. The PRS comprises a multiplicity of niche-markets and sub-markets, wide variation in supply-side actors, a range of policy intervention and enforcement agencies operating at local, regional and national levels, and the often-contradictory impacts of policy interventions from multiple government departments. This complexity means that there is a strong risk of unintended consequences for any policy intervention. 


The PRS is now a mainstream housing tenure that is expected to match values that are generally ascribed to owner occupation and social renting: it should offer long-term security and include opportunities to rent for households in the lowest incomes. However, studies produced by School staff have demonstrated that the sector is in flux. A cohort of ageing landlords – who benefitted substantially from easy availability of buy-to-let mortgages in the early 2000s – is exiting the market, leading to a reduction in supply and uncertainty for households looking for a settled tenancy. Long-term restrictions in benefit assistance and changes in benefit administration have also reduced landlord willingness to let to people who need help with paying the rent. There has been a subsequent increase in the number of households whose homelessness is caused by the loss of private rented tenancy.

A ‘mediated’ PRS has expanded rapidly to meet the need for emergency housing. Private sector agencies procure properties from landlords to let as temporary accommodation or supported housing. These properties are bundled into portfolios offered to local authority homelessness services, often at premium nightly let rates. Arguably, temporary accommodation is now the fastest-growing tenure, with over 100,000 households costing local authorities £1.74bn in 2022/23. 

This article has been republished from the Spring 2024 issue of Progress magazine.

The Centre for Housing Policy (CHP), is our interdisciplinary research group focused on increasing equality and quality of life in housing and the built environment.