New research launched to better understand the English private rented sector

Image of a residential street with two 'to let' signs outside houses

Today (09 May), the University of York, funded by the Nationwide Foundation, has launched the first phase of a research project to examine existing knowledge of the private rented sector (PRS) in England and identify how addressing any gaps could lead to impactful change within the sector.

Despite a wide variety of research into the PRS in recent years, the sector remains in crisis. It is widely accepted that urgent change is needed to ensure renters have access to safe, affordable and long-term homes where they can put down roots. But to ensure real, systemic and effective change is achieved, ambitious research is first needed to reshape how we think and what we know about the sector.

This new research into the English PRS will play a critical role in helping to identify and agree which aspects of the sector need to be better understood most urgently, with a focus on new and under-researched areas of the sector.

As a result, stakeholders across the sector will be better placed to understand what change is needed, allowing them to effectively campaign and influence for change, and help support those renters most severely affected by the current housing crisis.

This in-depth research into the English PRS will be completed across two phases. The aims of phase one, which commences this week, include:

  • Identifying the gaps which exist in current knowledge of the English PRS.
  • Identifying how filling these gaps could lead to change in the PRS.
  • Reflecting the different actors in the system and the different roles and powers they have in creating change.

During phase two, essential research will then be completed, focusing on the areas which have the highest chance of influencing systemic change in the PRS. This research will be collaborative, involving key stakeholders from across the housing sector to ensure there is a joint understanding and agreement of how effective reform can be achieved.

In recent months, the PRS has been in the spotlight as the Renters (Reform) Bill has moved through parliament. If done right, this landmark bill has the potential to transform the private rented sector, but there continue to be fundamental gaps in understanding of the PRS which need to be addressed to make it work for everyone, particularly those most vulnerable to harm.

Dr Julie Rugg, from the School for Business and Society at the University of York, will undertake the research, closely supported by research funders the Nationwide Foundation. This work builds on the seminal analyses of the sector completed by Dr Rugg in 2008 and 2018.

Joshua Davies, Programme Manager at the Nationwide Foundation, said: “Everyone deserves to have a decent, safe and secure place to call home for as long as they need it. But for thousands of renters, this isn’t the reality they face. We know there are fundamental problems within the PRS that have huge impacts on people’s health and wellbeing – leaving them feeling stressed, anxious, and in many cases, physically unwell.  

“In this context, we need research that will provide fresh perspectives to the challenges we face, alongside new policy directions that can deliver genuine solutions. Urgent change is needed, and this critical research will help us identify what areas of the PRS are the least understood, and how improving our understanding can shape the future of private renting. In the long-term, this research will create the confidence to deliver real change to all parts of the private rented sector.”

Dr Julie Rugg said “I’m delighted that the Nationwide Foundation has such an ambitious remit. This will help us pinpoint the research that will make a difference to tenants’ lives.”

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