Private sector rental, fuel poverty, and student accommodation

2021 Census data continues to be released, and DK has been thinking about the private rental market.

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

I’ve a mental model about student exposure to the energy crisis that runs something like this: students tend to live in the private rented sector, and such properties tend not to be particularly energy efficient or well-maintained.

Running your classic terrace in an efficient way is complex, difficult, and requires substantial investment in insulation and modern systems. And because it is landlords that make these investments while (in the most parts) tenants pay the bills, the temptation for landlords to do nothing is high.

New data out today from the Office for National Statistics adds a small area look at the proportion of households that are privately rented, and by plotting this against the data I found earlier on fuel poverty we can see if this hypothesis holds.

In the main, I think it does. You’ll recall last time I looked a fuel poverty we saw a peak in some student-heavy areas of Selly Oak – and it turns out that these are also more likely to see households renting privately.

Here’s the dashboard – you can use filters for local authority and then sub-filter into smaller areas (the fabulous crowd-sourced House of Commons MSOA areas, updated for the new year). Because some MSOAs were reorganised for the 2021 census, and the fuel poverty data uses the old ones, there’s a few instances in each area where we don’t have data on fuel poverty – so these are in grey on the bottom axis. I’ve also put the locations of universities and other higher education providers on the map.

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Rented accommodation is still the default for many students, so the combination of this issue of poorly maintained property and the income pressures faced by students has made those in higher education particularly likely to be struggling with energy costs. There’s been no action from government, and neither is there likely to be.

One solution might be proper regulation of student accommodation. You’ll have noted on Wonkhe various ways around the fact that we don’t even really have data on student accommodation costs or conditions – this should be the first step towards a register of accommodation providers, minimum standards and – ideally – price controls.

2 responses to “Private sector rental, fuel poverty, and student accommodation

  1. If I understand correctly, the definition of fuel poverty used here is a hybrid metric of low energy efficiency and cost of fuel relative to household income. I don’t see how we can separate these two factors to support any conclusions about energy efficiency of rented accommodation, without controlling for income. Even if private rented accommodation was just as energy efficient as other accommodation, isn’t it likely we’d still see a correlation between fuel poverty and renting due to renters having lower average incomes than home-owners? (I realise there is a difference between “rented” and “private rented” though – not quite sure how the social housing sector will affect the comparison of incomes between private renters and population at large.)

  2. I think the best we can say for certain is that people that live in (LSOA) areas with a high amount of rented accommodation are more likely to experience fuel poverty.

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