Opinion: The Private Rented Sector needs to be vibrant and consistent enough to cater for a wide range of needs

Valerie Bannister
These four ladies have a bench-share in Hoxton and they're loving every minute of it (Source: Getty)

There are currently 4.5m privately rented households in the UK – a number which is expected to grow to 6m over the next few years.

Popular perception paints this growing band of tenants as millennials finding it difficult to get onto the housing ladder in big cities. But Your Move’s latest research into UK tenants has revealed that almost half of individuals living in private rental accommodation are aged over 46. Surprisingly, just 39 per cent of them were under 35.

The rise of the Silver Renter, as this type of tenant is being called, may seem surprising, but in recent years we have started to see thousands of people turning to the Private Rental Sector as the most convenient option available to them following a change in personal circumstance, such as a work relocation or a marriage breakdown.

Often viewed as the ‘ugly sister’ to owning a property, the shifting demographics and changing needs of the UK population mean that now is the time for a renovation in how renting is perceived.

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When it comes to housing needs, there are some stark differences between the older and younger generations. Lifestyle choices are a big factor in how much tenants are willing to pay each month in rent.

The younger demographics, for example, are much more willing to pay for additional services such as high speed internet, satellite and parking, as well as services which improve their work/life balance, including house cleaning and gym accessibility.

For those in the older age groups, the majority agreed that they were willing to pay more for proximity to local amenities and connections to the wider community as that was their top priority.

Home ownership aspirations also differed dramatically according to age. Most of the younger tenants in our survey (80 per cent) wanted to own their own home in the future. For this group, the Private Rental Sector is often considered a necessary stepping stone in their homeownership journey, made more arduous by the endemic lack of affordable housing to buy across the UK, coupled with a low savings-rate environment.

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Older tenants in our survey were less enthusiastic about owning a home, with 46 per cent of those aged over 55 stating that they were happy with renting in the longer term, with only 19 per cent saying they would like to own a house in the future.

There are some things that bridge the generational divide, however. One thing that all age groups value is the flexibility that renting can offer; 81 per cent of tenants said that renting suited their lifestyle – whether that lifestyle choice was on a permanent basis, or just for a few years.

And the two most important factors tenants consider when they move into a rental home is the condition of the property (52 per cent), and the quality of the landlord (46 per cent). To cater to all these varying needs, we need a consistent and vibrant rental sector so renting becomes a first choice tenure, and not just the second best option.