By Marcus Leach

Average private rents are unaffordable for ordinary working families in over half (55%) of local authorities in England, new research from Shelter reveals today (Thursday).

In a sign that those priced out of home ownership are now struggling to meet the costs of renting — often considered the cheaper option — the Shelter Rent Watch shows that in the majority of local authorities, typical rents from private landlords were over a third of average take-home pay, the widely accepted measure of affordability.

The housing and homelessness charity is calling for government to take urgent action to stabilise a rental market that is out of control, and develop policies to bring rents more in line with average earnings. From 1997 to 2007, rents increased at one and a half times the rate of incomes.

Recent research by Shelter showed that 38% of families with children who are renting privately have cut down on buying food to pay their rent.

The figures, which provide a picture of rental affordability across the country for the first time, show that many rural areas are bearing the brunt of high rent rates and low earnings.

The research reveals that it’s more affordable to rent in Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham than it is to rent in north Devon, north Dorset or Herefordshire. And in Yorkshire, the cities of Bradford and Sheffield are both more affordable than the rural areas of Ryedale and Richmondshire.

London boroughs are the most expensive, with the average rent for a two bedroom home in the capital (£1,360) almost two and a half times the average in the rest of the country (£568). The least affordable local authority area outside London is Oxford, where typical rents account for 55% of average earnings.

“With huge differences in affordability across the country, there are now worrying signs that families are likely to be displaced by our out-of-control rental market," Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter, said.

“Over recent years we have seen more and more people forced into renting, as high house prices and a lack of social housing have made it the only option for thousands of ordinary families. What we’re seeing now is that renting is no longer the easy, cheap alternative to home ownership.

“We have become depressingly familiar with first time buyers being priced out of the housing market, but the impact of unaffordable rents is more dramatic. With no cheaper alternative, ordinary people are forced to cut their spending on essentials like food and heating, or uproot and move away from jobs, schools and families.

“With rural areas suffering just as much as cities — or in many cases, even less affordable — it’s no longer enough to encourage people to move out of crowded urban areas.

“Government must urgently consider how private renting can become a stable, affordable option for families, and not a heavy financial burden that makes parents choose between buying food for their children and paying the rent.

“This should be the wake-up call needed to finally take action to address our renting crisis.”

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