Issue date: 31 January 2003

Older people living in private rented accommodation are suffering neglect and abuse according to a report by researchers at the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol. Commissioned and funded by Help the Aged the report, launched today, shows that older people are being abused and mistreated by some private landlords and that there are deficiencies in the legal system which prevents older people from getting adequate protection or redress.

Help the Aged funded the research because of anecdotal evidence suggesting that older people living in private rented housing were especially disadvantaged and vulnerable to abuse and harassment from their landlords. Joe Oldman, Homelessness Strategy Co-ordinator at Help the Aged, said: “Any form of harassment or abuse of older people in rented accommodation is intolerable. We need to offer older tenants who wish to remain in the private rented sector much greater protection and more accessible housing advice and support services. At the same time we need to offer realistic housing options for those who would like to move out of the sector. Help the Aged is calling on the Government to develop a clear policy stance on this issue in consultation with tenant groups representing older people.”

Landlords are reported to have inflicted harassment including verbal, physical, psychological and financial abuse, neglect of property, illegal enforcement for older tenants to leave their rented home and unfair rent increases.

Fieldwork for the research was conducted in six locations during 2001. This included two Northern towns, a city in the Midlands, a city in the South West, a South coastal resort and a London borough

Dr Nancy Carlton, researcher in the Faculty of the Built Environment at UWE said, “The research threw up appalling examples of bad behaviour by landlords towards older tenants and we identified a number of systemic problems that need to be addressed to improve conditions for older people. Our research has identified a need for regulation of the private rented sector, education for landlords and better access to legal information and information about support agencies.”

“Landlords have been reported letting themselves into occupants homes without notice or permission. One landlady would also look into the cupboards and tell her tenants where to place the furniture when she came round to inspect,” said Dr Carlton, “Other examples of abuse and harassment include turning off the heating and putting pressure on older tenants to move out. A landlord visited a woman in hospital and told her that she hadn’t got long to live; why didn’t she take £1,000 from him and move out. Even the threat of court proceedings, whether real or not was intimidating for some older tenants, and fear of being involved in the legal proceedings was enough in some cases to keep older tenants from making complaints or enforcing their rights. Many tenants were fearful of rent increases and not being able to meet them and therefore being evicted; this was another disincentive to making any sort of complaint to their landlords.”

Frances Heywood, research fellow at the University of Bristol said, “Our research has demonstrated that the letter of the law alone is not enough to protect older tenants in the private rented sector. There is an urgent need not only for better regulation but for enforcement and support mechanisms to back up regulation. Training for the police is important. Also essential, and not costly, is the clear defining of responsibilities in every area between the police and local authorities. Lines of communication between voluntary organisations and the relevant statutory bodies will create the network to make sure that those older tenants who seek help will get it swiftly and effectively. Resources are therefore needed to help strengthen the organisations that give support and specialised advice to older people.”


Editor’s notes

The full report, the harassment and abuse of older people in the private rented sector, is published by The Policy Press. Copies are available from Marston Book Services, tel 01235 465500, priced £14.00 (plus £2.75 p&p).

Back to top