ONS warns rising number of Brits may never own a home

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Houses in Belper, Derbyshire, as figures show rising numbers of private renters. (Richard Gray/EMPICS Entertainment)

Official data suggests a growing number of British people may never own their own home, with spiralling property prices leaving them renting in retirement.

The number of people aged 35-44 who are homeowners has plummeted over the past two decades, while the number renting privately has soared, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS said it marked a contrast with longstanding trends, and warned rental costs could hit many future pensioners hard compared to living mortgage-free.

Levels of private renting typically fall as people get older, with many able to become homeowners through mortgages or inheritance. Almost three-quarters of people over 65 own their own home outright.

But ONS figures published on Monday show people in their mid-30s to mid-40s are now three times more likely to be renting privately than the same age group two decades ago.

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Only half of those aged 35-44 owned their own homes with a mortgage in 2017, compared with more than two-thirds of people in 1997.

The ONS said homeowners needed to take out mortgages by their 50s at the latest to have a chance of living mortgage-free at some point in retirement.

But it warned the falling number of people approaching middle age without mortgages could have significant positive and negative implications for their lives in retirement.

It said the number of private tenants aged over 65 currently stands at around one in 20, but would likely rise in future if current trends continued.

Renting privately could be “beneficial” for older tenants in sparing them the cost and physical challenges of maintaining their own homes, according to the ONS.

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“Renting privately may also mean that older people are more likely to be able to move to a different, better-suited property if their needs change, as they would not need to rely on the sale of their house,” it added.

But the ONS said the potential benefits “come at a price,” with private renting the most expensive way to live. Tenants face high rent costs throughout retirement, whereas mortgage repayments stop once the loan is repaid.

Even rents that tenants could afford while working “may cease to be affordable after retirement” once they rely on pensions to pay them.

The ONS said research suggested the average homeowner living mortgage-free could maintain their living standards on a pension pot of £260,000 ($336,000). The average private tenant would need far more to do the same, needing an estimated £445,000.