Two in five older private renters struggle to afford food, heating or clothes

29 November 2023

More than two-fifths (42%) of older private renters (55+) in England say they regularly struggle to afford basic living costs like buying food, heating their homes, or paying for clothes[i] – equating to 364,479 households[ii] – according to new research by the National Housing Federation (NHF).

The new report unveils the stark economic and social reality faced by the fast-growing number of older people living in expensive, insecure privately rented homes. The number of people over the age of 55 renting privately has rocketed by over 70% in the last decade, growing at three and a half times the rate of the population. Today, there are 866,870 older private renting households (55+) in England. [iii]

YouGov polling[iv] commissioned by the NHF reveals the experiences of older people (55+) living in private rented homes in England:

  • Two fifths (42%) of older private renters regularly struggle to cover their basic living costs such as buying food and clothes or heating their homes. This equates to 364,479 households.
  • Half (48%) of older private renters worry about getting into debt due to their housing and other living costs being too high. This could affect 416,098 households.
  • A quarter (23%) of older private renters have been asked to leave their current or previous home. This equates to 199,380 households.
    Half (49%) of retired older (55+) private renters say their quality of life is severely impacted by their housing costs. This could affect 193,898 people.
  • More than a third (37%) of retired older (55+) private renters see less of their family and friends because they are worried about the costs involved. This could affect 146,413 people.
  • Half (52%) of older private renters who are still working want to retire but can’t currently afford to due to their housing costs. This equates to 191,331 people.

Private renting pensioners (65+) – the oldest age demographic – are the most likely to be on very low incomes[v]. A staggering half (48%) of private renting pensioners (65+) are in the lowest income bracket in England (the bottom fifth) – meaning they live on just £11,341 a year on average after tax.[vi] They are twice as likely to be in the bottom income bracket as renters under 65 and nearly twice as likely to rely on benefits to pay their rent.[vii] The findings uncover the extent of England’s broken housing system. These low-income renters would previously have access to secure and affordable social housing. However, due to the chronic shortage of social homes, they are now forced to live in the most expensive and insecure types of homes, pushing them even further into poverty.

The research also predicts a ticking time bomb of pensioners affected by insecurity and high costs in the private rented sector in the years to come. According to the figures, pre-retirement private renters, in the 55-64 age group, have increased faster than any other group – six times the rate of the population in ten years. [viii] With average earnings falling after the age of 50[ix], as this group enters retirement with no other housing options available we are likely to see a huge spike in pensioners (65+) living in private rented homes they cannot afford.

Despite years of promised reform, private rented homes continue to be the most insecure, expensive, and worst quality homes in England.[x] People on low incomes are disproportionately affected by the lack of regulation, living in some of the worst conditions and spending the highest proportion of their salary on rent. This is exacerbated by the critical shortage of social homes, creating more demand, less choice and driving private rents even higher.

Baby boomers are often thought to have been shielded from the worst effects of the housing crisis. However, today’s findings show that many have fallen through the cracks and are now finding themselves at the sharpest end. This crisis is the result of decades of underinvestment in social housing and short-term, piecemeal approaches to housing policy by successive governments. Last year only 6,635 social rent homes were built, 81% fewer than in 2010. According to NHF research, there are now 4.2 million people in need of social housing in England, including older people and families stuck in unaffordable and unsuitable homes, and homeless people.

The National Housing Federation is calling on all political parties and commit in their manifestos to a national, long-term plan to end the housing crisis, which prioritises social housing.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive at the National Housing Federation, said:

“Today’s report shows that the chronic lack of social housing is now impacting our aging population in devastating ways. The health of older private renters is at risk as hundreds of thousands struggle to buy food and heat their homes, and when even seeing friends and family is too expensive this leads to loneliness and isolation. More worrying still, the research indicates that an already critical situation is on the verge of getting much worse, as a huge number of middle-aged private renters approach retirement with no affordable housing options available to them.

“This exemplifies how broken our housing system has become, that the very people that social housing exists to support – the poorest and most vulnerable in our society – are now living in the least secure, poorest quality and most expensive homes in the private rented sector. This is the result of successive governments failing to plan for affordable homes over the long term. There is no time to lose. As we head towards the next election, we urge all political parties to put an end to decades of short-term, inadequate housing policy decisions and commit to a national long-term plan that prioritises building social housing.”


[i] YouGov polling for NHF

[ii] NHF analysis of YouGov polling data and English Housing Survey data

[iii] NHF analysis of English Housing Survey data

[iv] Online polling carried out by YouGov with a sample of 2,024 older renters (aged over 55), between 6th October and 17th October 2023.

[v] NHF analysis of the English Housing Survey.

[vi] English Housing Survey

[vii] English Housing Survey

[viii] NHF analysis of English Housing Survey data

[ix] ONS, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings


[xi] English Housing Survey

[xii] Live table 1009 on affordable housing supply - GOV.UK ( 


[xiv] Live table 1009 on affordable housing supply - GOV.UK (