Thousands of parents stuck in a cycle of short-term rented accommodation have blamed the length of their tenancies for causing anxiety, harming relationships, and causing their children to feel unsettled.
An online survey of 3,200 renters carried out by pollsters YouGov and commissioned by the housing charity Shelter found that the instability of renting had far-reaching implications.
On a standard 12-month rental contract in England, tenants can normally be evicted after six months, often through no fault of their own, posing big problems for families with school-age children.
The research found:
– 46% agreed with the statement: "Searching for a new rented home had a negative impact on my personal life/relationships."
– 10% of respondents said the short length of rental contracts had made their children feel unsettled.
Despite government sources telling journalists that it would signal a "major shift in policy" in favour of the country's 11 million renters, the government's housing white paper, unveiled earlier this month, had few significant measures to improve renting, other than a suggestion to create three-year tenancies in some new-build developments backed by institutional investors.
One woman, who gave her name only as Emma, lives in Folkestone, Kent, with her husband and three young children and has moved 10 times in the past 10 years. She contacted Shelter to seek advice because of the huge effects the frequent moves have had on her and her family.
"We’ve been renting for over a decade and we try to keep an element of stability in our children’s lives, but sometimes that control is taken away from us," she said.
"My eldest is 14 years old and she’s only ever known the insecurity that comes with renting. She’s lived in 10 places in her lifetime and is very aware of our situation, so it’s hit her the hardest and she gets quite anxious. My son is on the autistic spectrum and he’s very particular about his belongings, so moving has been hard for him as well.
"When I look back at what we’ve gone through as a family I wonder how on earth we managed. Renting is so expensive and the little we manage to save gets spent when we hit a bump in the road – like when my husband was made redundant. But being able to rent somewhere for years instead of months would change this as it would mean we’d have a stable home."
Rachel, 35, from Buckinghamshire, has been renting privately with her partner since the birth of their 8-year-old son. She told BuzzFeed News that while they have moved only twice, the uncertainty of being stuck in a cycle of renting was causing considerable anxiety and stopping her from making key life decisions.
She said that the family had to move when her son was 1 year old because the landlord wanted to sell the house and was worried that house prices may start to fall. Last year, her current landlord tried to increase the rent by £400 a month, but this was negotiated down to £200 a month.
"You're only ever two months from the landlord saying 'I've had enough now, I'm selling up, you're on your own.' Our current landlord is only hanging on to it for development potential. We've been lucky that we're still here, but it doesn't feel that lucky.
"We were lucky that we managed to get my son through infant school [without moving house]. But you're completely at the mercy of someone else. All I want for my son is to start and finish school with his friends and have a happy, settled life. And you can't give them that when you're renting.
"What happens if you've got to move in a GCSE year? It could be catastrophic for your child. And the absolute guilt and worry you'd have about it – the guilt you have as a parent is bad enough as it is."
"There's a little old lady who I've befriended who I get some shopping for – I can do it this month but I might not be able to do it next month because I might not be here. I haven't joined the school PTA, I buy cheap curtains, I'm not buying big garden furniture because we might not have a garden next time. It takes over every decision."
Like millions of families, Rachel and her partner, who both work full-time, would qualify for a mortgage but to reach the asking price for a family home they would also need a considerable – and unrealistic – cash deposit.
The loss of a rented home through eviction or price rises is the single biggest cause of homelessness in England, which now stands at a record 255,000 people.
Shelter has been calling for five-year rental contracts for some time. Its interim CEO, Graeme Brown, said: "Soaring house prices mean more families are renting than ever before. But the dire state of our rental market means they can only secure a home for six months – the equivalent to just two school terms.
"Every day at Shelter we speak to parents who are forced to move, faced with yet another unsettling house move. And at the sharp end, a worrying number of renting families are becoming homeless because they can’t scrape together the money needed for a deposit on a new place. No child deserves this upheaval."
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at email@example.com.
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