Matthew Taylor has a thought provoking article in The Times today. He argues that the home ownership ideal that so many Brits aspire to is actually unhealthy for the country and far better would be a balance of about 50% owners and 50% renters.
I agree with Matthew that changing the culture to ensure that renting was a more viable option for people and they did not feel compelled to get on the housing ladder would be better. The problem however can be summed up in three words: "security of tenure". Or indeed lack of it.
I blogged a few months back about how I had been effectively evicted from two of the flats I lived in through no fault of my own. Here are a couple of excerpts from the post:
The worst thing about privately renting in my view is the lack of security of tenure. In two of the places I rented, I was forced to move out on the whim of the landlord. The worst example of this was a lovely flat I lived in where I was very happy. During my time there I got made redundant from my job. Now I work in a highly skilled profession and there was no doubt I would get another decent paying job in a short while (it took me 2 or 3 months in the end - not bad). I wanted everything to be above board and because I would be claiming housing benefit I thought I owed it to the landlord/agency to inform them of this even though I subsequently discovered there was no legal obligation on me to do so. Big mistake. The first thing that happened was the landlord insisted on the next 3 months rent in advance in a lump sum. I could cover this because it amounted to roughly my redundancy payment. However 3 months later the landlord served notice of eviction on me. By this time I had already started my new job at the same salary as I had been on before but they weren't interested. I was out. I loved that flat and would have been very happy to stay there for years, until I had been in a position to buy my own property which was not to happen for another 3 years almost.
I am not an expert on the intricacies of what lie behind the situation around renting in the UK but surely there could be a rebalancing to give a much stronger security of tenure. Some relatives of mine lived in Holland during the 1980s and they still maintain strong links with the country now so I have been over there a number of times over the years. I know people over there find our obsession with purchasing our own homes in this country quite odd. However I knew a woman over there who was in her late 20s with a child and privately rented a beautiful flat with 3 bedrooms in a very nice area and she was paying the equivalent of £150 per month. This was in 1991 so it would obviously be more than that now but the crucial thing for me was when I talked about what her longer term plans were and when she would be looking to buy somewhere. "Why would I want to buy somewhere when I can stay here?" was her response. The situation she was in there of course was that she had security of tenure.
I am afraid unless and until this problem is addressed then private renting will often seem like a staging post until the tenant can buy somewhere.