9 February 2012 | By Alex Wellman, Inside Housing

The number of people renting homes in the private market could soon overtake those in the social market as figures show the gap is closing.

According to the English Housing Survey headline report released today by the Communities and Local Government department, in 2010/11 there were 3.8 million households in the social rented sector and 3.6 million in the private rented sector.

The difference between the two, now at 200,000, has been closing every year since 1980 when the difference between the two stood at more than 3 million households.

The figures are backed up by findings by Countrywide – the UK’s largest lettings agent – which said that more than 275,000 new tenants registered for private rental accommodation in 2011 – an increase of 24 per cent on 2010.

Nick Dunning, commercial director at Countrywide said that renting had become the new norm and that there were not enough properties to satisfy demand.

He said: ‘With a record number of tenants entering the private rental sector, there is a vast shortage of properties available in all areas of UK, which could potentially fuel a steady rise in rent prices throughout 2012.’

According to findings in the English Housing Survey, more than half of private renters – 1.9 million – were aged under-35 with 16 per cent – 582,000 – aged 16 to 24.

The picture is different in the social rented sector where 19 per cent – 729,000 – of households were aged under-35 with just 5 per cent aged 16 to 24. Social housing had a much higher proportion of older tenants than the private sector – 29 per cent of households were aged 65 or over compared to only 8 per cent of private renters.

The average private sector weekly rent was around twice that of households living in social housing – £160 compared to £79, while households renting from a local authority paid lower rents than those renting from a housing association – £74 compared to £84.

Other findings in the report show that 63 per cent of households in the social rented sector were in receipt of housing benefit, while the figure drops to 25 per cent in the private rented sector.

Under-occupation was highest in owner occupied homes with 49 per cent of properties being deemed to fall in the bracket. Just 10 per cent of social rented homes and 17 per cent of private rented homes were deemed to be under-occupying.