Outside of London, households on the waiting list in the South East are least likely to be offered a social rent home.

Shelter's analysis of the latest government data shows there were nearly 500,000 privately renting households on council waiting lists last year, but fewer than 43,000 private renters moved into a social rent home during that same period. 

Worryingly, the true scale of need among private renters is probably far greater than these figures suggest. Since 2011, councils have been able to decide the eligibility criteria for their own waiting lists with many insisting people must have a long-standing connection to the local area to qualify, meaning thousands cannot even get on the list in the first place.

The problem stems from decades of failure to build new social homes – just 6,434 social rent homes were delivered last year, but 21,500 were lost through sales, conversions, and demolitions. Consequently, people have become effectively trapped in expensive private renting.

Shelter has also explored the day-to-day impacts of not being able to access a genuinely affordable social home. A YouGov study for Shelter shows that 21% of private renters (1.8 million people) are constantly struggling or falling behind with their rent. Children and families are not immune. Some of the extreme lengths parents are going to in order to keep on top of housing costs, include:

  • 24% cutting back on food (equivalent to over 600,000 parents)
  • 18% cutting back on heating their home (equivalent to more than 450,000 parents)
  • 14% skipping meals completely (equivalent to 350,000 parents)

These desperate measures are hardly surprising when official statistics show private renters shell out on average 41% of their income on rent – making it more expensive than any other type of housing.

With a general election just around the corner, we are making a fresh call for every political party to invest in the new social housing this country desperately needs. This means a commitment to deliver at least 90,000 social homes a year over the course of the next parliament to ensure everyone has a stable home they can afford to live in.

Kim's story

"I’m a single parent with three children. My 15 year old daughter Sasha is severely disabled. For the last 15 years I’ve been trying to secure her suitable accommodation – a property which is safe for her and gives her some independence through being adapted – but I’ve been unsuccessful.

We’ve also been constantly facing eviction from different private rental properties since 2016, for reasons that are out of our control. Last year we were living in a bungalow, and the landlords gave us a section 21 after we’d been there only four months, as they decided they wanted to sell.

I can’t keep doing this to my children. My eight-year-old son Josh has had seven different houses; he’s in Year 4 and he’s been to three different schools. He’s having a lot of behaviour issues because of it. He’s like Jekyll and Hyde and I think it’s a lot of insecurity that he doesn’t know where he is half the time, whether he’s coming or going.

Sasha has lived in 14 different houses during her lifetime. We haven’t had a house that feels like a home for years.

The council says there is nothing suitable for us. When we were facing eviction last year, there was nothing that was right for us with my daughter’s needs. My daughter has difficulty walking and with stairs. So, for her to be as independent as possible she needs everything on the ground floor. She also has equipment including an electric wheelchair, and feeding tubes, which take up a lot of space.

Our only option was to go back into private renting, which is difficult because I get housing benefit, so many landlords won’t let to us. It’s also unaffordable and very insecure. It’s such a horrible feeling when you’re renting to know that you could be told at any time to leave, for nothing that you have done wrong. You can’t keep living like that.

Obviously rent always has to come first, but then my daughter misses out because I have to spend the money that is meant for her therapies, on rent.

Recently a professional accused me of wanting my ‘dream home’. My dream home is on a farm, a big house, with chickens running about in the field, horses, that’s my dream home. I’m not expecting that.

All I’m asking for is a home that we can live in, so we don't have to move again."

Kim’s story is not unusual. Many people with disabled children are unable to find a suitable home in the private rented sector. They need social housing – but there is not enough social housing for everyone who needs it.

That is why we're backing Shelter's comprehensive vision for social housing, so that more families, whatever their situation, can have a proper home. You can help us put pressure on politicians to build more social housing.