OpinionMar 7 2023

'The chancellor must tackle the tangled pensions undergrowth'

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'The chancellor must tackle the tangled pensions undergrowth'

The rise and rise of the lifetime renter has largely gone under the radar of the financial press and advisers.

Yet its potential disastrous fallout could rock the very foundations of UK retirement provision within two decades.

In my view, this is the most pressing problem of all from my top 10 pension priorities (listed below) for the chancellor’s imminent Budget.

Forty years ago, interest rates were at a stellar high. Getting on the housing ladder was difficult and mortgages rationed. Today it is far worse: housing costs have  gone up by a staggering 974 per cent since 1983, according to the Halifax.

1. The lifetime renter 

Single people today are largely excluded from home ownership in London. A joint income in excess of £100,000 will buy you a rabbit hutch in London’s Zone 2. Many will never afford their own home. Rent in London starts at £1,000 a month for a small flat.

If you are not on the housing ladder by 50, the chances are, you never will be.

My fear is that the UK’s successful pensions auto-enrolment policy could collapse like a house of cards if most workers become lifetime renters. In stark terms, the average saver on the auto-enrolment minimum plus the state pension will have enough for a frugal lifestyle but will not be able to afford to rent a home. 

In 2017, almost three-quarters of people aged 65 years and over in England owned their home outright, with just 6 per cent renting from a private landlord. Now, one third of people in their 30s and mid 40s are renters. If you are not on the housing ladder by 50, the chances are, you never will be.

People currently in their 40s – the first generation with no defined benefit pension or other provision – will retire in 20 years’ time. If renting is then the norm, their rent will be too great a burden either for the state or the individual to finance unless action is taken now.

Department for Work and Pensions statistics show that at November 2022, almost 6mn people receive state help towards housing, either through housing benefit or universal credit, with housing benefit alone costing £23.4bn an year. 

Indeed, a recent New Statesman article highlighted that that is “more than the total running costs of government departments including the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Transport. Only health and social care, education and defence account for larger shares of day-to-day spending”.