The English Housing Survey: Five Key Takeaways

The government has published its annual English Housing Survey covering 2019/20. Dominic Brady looks at some standout findings from the report.

1) Overcrowding again reached record highs and was worst in social rented sector
The survey found that overcrowding has once again hit record highs since data first started being collected in 1995, usurping last year’s figure.
The social rented sector was particularly hard hit with 9% of this group living in overcrowded accommodation in 2019/20, up from 8% in in 2020/21.
The extent of overcrowding in the country became a key concern over the last year as more and more people were forced to isolate at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the social rented sector ethnic minority households with overcrowding stood at 18% compared to just 7% for white households.
Overcrowding is also on the rise in the private rented sector, rising from 6% in 2017/18 to 7% in 2019/20. This figure is also the highest level of overcrowding in the private rented sector since records began.
By contrast, just 1% of owner-occupiers live in an overcrowded household, the survey found.
The overall rate of overcrowding in England stands at 4%, with around 829,000 households living in overcrowded conditions. This portion is unchanged from 2018/19 but has risen from 3% in 2016/17.

2) Social renters feel more anxious than others
After looking at the well-being of individuals across all tenures, the survey showed that social renters had the lowest well-being scores.
In particular, social renters reported feeling more anxious than any other tenure. The average well-being score for anxiety in the social rented sector was 3.2 out of 10, where 10 is “completely anxious”. This number fell to 2.9 for private renters and again to 2.5 for owner-occupiers.
Loneliness was another area where social renters were worst affected, with responses suggesting they were more than twice as likely to feel lonely than any other tenure.
In total, 12% of social renters said they are often or always lonely compared to just 5% of private renters and 4% of owner-occupiers.
Unsurprisingly reports of loneliness soared during the pandemic but mostly in the private rented sector. Loneliness rates more than tripled for private renters from 4% to 14%, while 16% of social renters reported feeling lonely, up from 12% the year before.

3) Almost a quarter of social renters went into arrears in the last year
Overall the survey found that 23% of social rent households fell into arrears at some point in the last 12 months. Meanwhile just 8% of private renters had been in arrears over the same period.
Given that the survey only covers the year up to 31 March 2020, the impact of COVID-19 is not fully reflected in the data.
In the last year, huge swathes of the population have missed out on work either through having to self-isolate or being put on furlough. With this in mind, it is reasonable to expect the percentage of social renters who have experienced some level of arrears will have increased.
For example, research by House-Mark showed a 30% increase in outstanding social housing rent arrears since March 2020, with the total amount of arrears topping £1bn.
Looking again at the data from 2019/20, the survey also found that 73% of social renters said they found it easy to pay their rent.
When broken down by age, the survey found that social renters age 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 were the most likely to fall into rent arrears, with these groups accounting for 44% and 37% of total rent arrears.

4) City dwellers report feeling lonelier than those living in rural areas
Despite the obvious difference in population density, individuals living in rural areas report feeling less lonely than their city-dwelling counterparts.
On top of this, the survey found that those living in urban environments were less likely to feel they belonged to their neighbourhood than those in more rural environments. Three-quarters (75%) of those in urban areas felt they belonged either very or fairly strongly, compared to 82%-85% in rural areas.
Most people living in urban environments reported feeling safe when they were home alone (93%), although this figure increased to 98%-99% among those living in rural areas.
Respondents living in rural areas were also more likely to have a positive perception of their neighbourhood (93- 95%) than those in urban areas (82-87%).

5) Social renters are more concerned about fire safety than private renters
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, social housing providers have been counting the ever-growing costs of fire safety remedial works in their blocks.
The ongoing building safety crisis and the fact higher percentages of social renters live in tower blocks when compared to owner-occupiers perhaps explains why it is predominantly social housing renters that feel most afraid of fire in their homes.
The English Housing Survey found that one in 10 (10%) social renters say they were concerned about a fire breaking out. This compares to just 7% of private renters fearing a fire. Owner-occupiers were far less concerned with just 3.3% expressing concern about the prospect of a fire.
The survey found that younger people were more likely to feel unsafe due to fire risk, with 15% of those aged 16-24 reporting that they felt unsafe. Meanwhile, ethnic minority respondents felt more strongly about fire safety with 7.7% saying they did not feel safe from fire, compared to just 4.6% of white individuals.


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