Calls are being made for better support for private landlords, after figures showed that one in five UK residents lives in a private rental home, including almost two million families and their children. Figures from the English Housing Survey show that about 4.7 million households in England live in privately rented homes, which is more than double the number in 2002. It is also the most common tenure in London. Families and older households are also increasingly likely to be tenants rather than homeowners, the survey shows.

The private-rental sector is much larger than the social sector and shows the importance of buy-to-lets for families around England. David Smith, policy director of the Residential Landlords Association, said the government needs to recognise the vital work of buy-to-let landlords in the housing market. He said that there needs to be tax and planning policies in place to support landlords and to meet the ever-increasing demand for rented accommodation.

The English Housing Survey 2016-17 is full of useful information for landlords, as it shows how the rental sector is changing. For instance, the number of families with children living in rented accommodation has risen by nearly one million. Now, 38% of households in the sector are families. People living in London are also relying heavily on rental accommodation, with 30% of households privately renting. In the capital, one in four households own their properties without a mortgage, and 22% acquired their property with a mortgage. The picture is different outside of the capital, where 36% of households own their own properties, 30% are buying their home with a mortgage and 19% are privately renting.The survey also shows that the average length of tenure in private rentals remains at 3.9 years. Owner-occupiers and tenants in social housing tend to live in the same property for longer.

An RLA spokesperson said that a national policy for the sector could be undesirable because of the different experiences and needs of tenants in London and those outside the capital. The spokesperson suggested that mandatory long-term rental contracts could actually work against tenants who may like the flexibility of short-term leasing, perhaps because they are students or professionals moving to work in a new city. Removing barriers preventing long-term tenancies for those who wish them could be more practical than imposing longer contracts on everyone.

The private rental sector is set to play an increasing role in providing housing for younger renters, students, professionals and families who cannot afford to buy, as well as the ageing population, who are looking for adapted properties or purpose-built retirement accommodation.

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