Tenants in social or private rented housing have lower adaptive capacity to flooding and heatwaves


Credit: JRF/Liz Hingley

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Tenants in the social and private rented sectorare likely to have a lower ability to adapt to climate change and extreme weather events compared to home owners. This is partly as a direct result of their living arrangements but also due to the fact that tenants may also have a range of other characteristics, such as lower income levels, which further increase their vulnerability.


However, not all tenants will be equally affected by climate change and extreme weather even when they are exposed to the same event. There are also nuances in relation to the issues across different tenures which need to be understood. It is therefore important to learn about what other characteristics tenants have in the local communities that you are supporting. This is true for all of the vulnerable groups identified in this resource.The Further Resources section provides a link to where you can get more information about who is socially vulnerable and why.


The following shows how tenure can make people particularly vulnerable to climate impacts and related extreme weather.





Tenants are not responsible for buildings insurance because this tends to be the responsibility of the property owner. This means they are reliant on their landlord to ensure they live in a building which is appropriately insured and makes it harder for them to take precautions to deal with issues like flood risk which affect their homes.


Tenants are less likely to have home contents insurance compared to owner occupiers. In the UK as a whole, the proportion of households without contents insurance exceeds 60% in the social and private rented sectors (Figure 1), compared to less than 10% in the owner-occupier sector1. Overall, two-thirds of all of the UK households which lack basic contents insurance are occupied by tenants. A number of measures have been put in place to try and improve the take up of insurance cover in the rental sector, such as 'insurance-with-rent' schemes, but these have had limited success2. As a result, tenants are a group who are likely to face particular difficulties replacing any belongings damaged by a flood event.


Figure 1: Contents insurance among owner occupiers, social renters and private renters.3


Tenants are less likely to have the right to change the structure of their property to adapt it to flooding. Thus they are less likely to be able to take advantage of property-level flood resilience measures, and again will be reliant on their landlord for any measures to be in place. There are not enough incentives for developers/landlords to provide additional flood resilience measures. It is the occupiers who may bear most of the cost of flood damage and so developers/ landlords are not motivated to invest in property-level measures.4


Tenants tend to be on low incomes and so may struggle to afford insurance. The rate of poverty among renters is around three times that of homeowners.5 Social tenant households have the lowest incomes of all tenures with a gross annual income of £17,600 in 2011/12. 6 Private tenant households tend to be on a lower gross annual income than homeowners (£30,100 compared to £40,500), yet on average they pay more on weekly rental payments than home-owners do on mortgages (£164 compared to £141). Given that private tenants already spend around 41% of their income on housing (compared to 30% for social renters and 18% for home owners), this presents a considerable financial disincentive for carrying out additional property level adaptations, even if permission is granted from landlords. This situation mayworsenin future given that rates of poverty in the private rented sector are increasing. As of 2011/2 there were almost as many private as social renters in poverty (3.9 million compared to 4.2 million respectively).Unemployment rates are also higher for people living in privately rented accommodation; data for 2010-11 shows an unemployment rate of 7% for private renters and 10% for social renters compared to only 1% for owner-occupiers.8

  • See the Further Resources section for more information about the specific issues faced by people on low incomes and a set of actions to take in response.


The availability and affordability of insurance is also an issue in some areas where there is a high likelihood of flooding. New government legislation seeks to assist with the provision of affordable insurance to households living in areas of the highest likelihood of flooding under the Flood Re scheme.


Private sector tenants may have less local knowledge as they tend to have a shorter length of residence in an area compared to owner occupiers: in 2011-12 32% of private renters had lived in their property less than 1 year, compared to 9% of social renters and 3% of owner occupiers.9


Following flooding, there may be different levels of support for people living in different tenures. Social housing tenants may benefit from support to relocate but may lack control over how this is managed.Indeed, this has been noted as a source of conflict in some situations, for example, evidence from Scotland shows that private tenants and homeowners considered social tenants to have been given preferential treatment in some instances.10 However, social tenants can face the inconvenience and stress of having little control over the timing of the relocation process 11 and the standard of flood repairs being carried out on their homes.

  • See the Further Resources section for personal stories about recovering from flooding.


After a flood event, private renters may have problems finding alternative accommodation at a reasonable price due to temporary shortages if demand for short term accommodation increases, including from displaced owner occupiers. Consequently, displacement disrupts their lives and can strain their finances. 12





Private renters and social tenants are more likely to live in purpose-built flats compared to owner occupiers.These flats are more susceptible to over-heating – see the Adapting Buildings section for information about why. Such flats are much more likely to be occupied by tenants, with 75% of all flats and 81% of all high-rise purpose built flats being within the rented sector. 13 In 2008, some 40% of the UK’s total stock of flats was rented to social tenants and flats made up almost of fifth of all dwellings. 14


Private rented houses, alongside owner-occupied houses, tend to have lower energy ratings (an average 55 SAP rating compared to nearly 63 in the social rented sector). 15 This may mean that they are more prone not only to excess cold but also to overheating. Overheating occurs quickly in poorly insulated homes and is one of the reasons why 1960s top floor flats have overheating problems.


Private tenants on low incomes are less likely to report problems with their standards of housing for fear of eviction.17 Therefore, even though avoidance of excess heat or cold is required through an identified Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), this may not be identified without direct action by a local authority.


Private and social renters are more likely to live in overcrowded conditions (6% and 7%respectively) than owner occupiers (1%),18 which increases internal temperatures and may make ventilation more difficult.


As with flooding, tenants are less likely to have the right to change the structure of their property and retrofit their home to be better adapted to high temperatures compared to owner occupiers.



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  1. The poverty site. Without home contents insurance.
  2. Hood, J., Stein, W. and McCann, C. (2009) 'Low Cost Insurance Schemes in Scottish Social Housing: An Empirical Study of Availability and Tenants' Participation', Urban Studies, 46 (9), pp. 1807-1827
  3. The poverty site. Without home contents insurance.
  4. Adaptation Sub-Committee (2011) Adapting to climate change in the UK: measuring progress
  5. McInnes, T. et al, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2013
  6. DCLG (2013) English Housing Survey HOUSEHOLDS 2011-12. Office of National Statistics
  7. McInnes, T. et al, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2013
  8. DCLG (2013) English Housing Survey HOUSEHOLDS 2011-12. Office of National Statistics
  9. DCLG (2013) English Housing Survey HOUSEHOLDS 2011-12. Office of National Statistics
  10. Werritty A, Houston D., Ball T., Tavendale A. & Black A., University of Dundee (2007) for Scottish Executive Exploring the Social Impacts of Flood Risk and Flooding in Scotland
  11. Werritty A, Houston D., Ball T., Tavendale A. & Black A., University of Dundee (2007) for Scottish Executive Exploring the Social Impacts of Flood Risk and Flooding in Scotland
  12. Whittle et al. (2010) After the Rain – learning the lessons from flood recovery in Hull, final project report for “Flood, Vulnerability and Urban Resilience: a real-time study of local recovery following the floods of June 2007 in Hull”, Lancaster University, Lancaster UK
  13. DCLG (2013) English Housing Survey HOUSEHOLDS 2011-12. Office of National Statistics
  14. DCLG English Housing Survey Housing stock report 2008 page 8
  15. DCLG (2013) English Housing Survey HOUSEHOLDS 2011-12. Office of National Statistics
  16. De Santos (2012) A better deal Towards more stable private renting, Shelter.
  17. DCLG (2013) English Housing Survey HOUSEHOLDS 2011-12. Office of National Statistics


In England in 2011-12, around one-third (35%) of households were rented


Credit: JRF/Liz Hingley

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Nature of the sector


The private rented sector has been growing in recent years, and is at its highest level since the early 1990s, equalling that of the social rented sector at 3.8 million households.


In comparison to social housing, the quality of housing in the private rented sector is more likely to be low. For example, although the overall number of homes that fail to meet Decent Homes standards has fallen, more than twice as many privately-rented homes compared to socially-rented homes did not meet these standards in 2012 (33% compared to 15%). The most common cause of failure was down to poor safety standards associated with Category 1 hazards in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The Housing Health and Safety Rating System covers 29 separate hazards, with Category 1 being reserved for any hazard score over a predefined threshold. The list of hazards includes exposure to excess heat and cold but contains no explicit consideration of flooding.2


Tenants’ rights, particularly in the private sector, are poorly regulated. Many schemes are voluntary and regulations on living standards are not as strictly enforced those associated with other basic human rights, such as access to safe food.3


Duties and responsibilities


Local authorities have statutory duties and responsibilities which are relevant for action on climate impacts and extreme weather and ensuring decent homes for tenants. The context for Wales and Scotland with respect to flooding is included in our Why climate justice matters presentation, where relevant. For England, duties and responsibilities are set out in:

  • The Flood and Water Management Act (2010) which gives powers to local authorities to work with a range of stakeholders and the wider public in developing flood risk strategies.
  • The Housing Act (2004) sets up the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England)Regulations 2005 (SI 2005 No 3208) through which hazards can be identified and minimized within rental accommodation. The application of the system is taken from the perspective of aspects of tenant vulnerability, such as their age. The system does not provide a set of standards. However, information from the system can be used with powers given to local authorities through Part 1 of the Act to require action to remedy potential hazards.4
  • Building Standards and Regulations-5 the work of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee 6 can help to inform about proposed changes to regulations in this area.




  1. DCLG (2013) English Housing Survey 2011-12. Office for National Statistics
  2. DCLG (2006) Housing Health and Safety Rating System Guidance for Landlords and Property Related Professionals
  3. Written evidence to House of Commons Communities & Local Government Committee by Housing for the 99%, 2013
  4. DCLG (2006) Housing Health and Safety Rating System Guidance for Landlords and Property Related Professionals
  5. DCLG Planning Portal The Building Regulations
  6. Building Regulations Advisory Committtee


The Climate Just map tool contains a series of maps which can be used to understand patterns in the concentrations of tenants across England, Scotland and Wales.


Credit: JRF/Liz Hingley


The tool also allows users to overlay maps of potential exposure to flooding and heat-waves. See the map tool for the national maps for 2011 and to view the proportions of private & social tenants in your area. The headlines below use data from England, but many of the same issues are found in Wales and Scotland. The specific patterns of people renting in Wales and Scotland can be reviewed using our Map Tool. Additional data on housing in Wales and Scotland can be found separately. 


Private and social renters tend to live in urban areas, where high temperatures may be further raised by the urban heat island effect (and potentially increased exposure to surface water flooding).  In city centres in England, 46% of housing is privately rented and 19% socially rented. In other urban centres, 29% is privately rented and 25% socially rented.Taking London as a whole, a quarter of all households live in privately rented accommodation.2


High percentages of social landlords tended to be concentrated in urban areas in 2001. The percentage of social landlords decreased by 1.6% across England between 2001 and 2011. Taking council and social landlords together there was a decrease of 2.6%. Three decades ago 30% of housing was in the socially rented sector, in comparison to just 17% in 2010/11 according to the English Housing Survey. During the same period there has been a marked increase in private landlords.

Map 1. Social and Council Landlords 2001 - 2011


Private renting is one of the indicators of social vulnerability which has been particularly growing over recent years.Overall there was an increase of 7% across England from 2001-2011.There is a wide variation at the local scale ranging from 2% to 74% in 2011 (Figure 11). Some of the largest increases were in Peterborough, Milton Keynes and Northampton.


Map 2. Private Renting 2001 - 2011

See the map tool for more information.




Identify the nature of the problem in your area

Identify where there are high concentrations of social or private tenants in your area. See the spatial data in the Climate Just mapping tool.

Identify the magnitude and likelihood of hazards associated with the changing climate.

  • Draw on existing risk assessments, adaptation tools such as the UKCP09 projections and the forthcoming UKCP18 (UKCP09’s update projections over UK land areas and sea-level rise, giving greater regional detail) as well as other local information (for example following the UKCIP Local Climate Impacts Profile, or LCLIP process).  See the Further Resources section for an example LCLIP for Greater Manchester.
  • To ensure continuous learning, extreme weather events affecting the local area (location, timings, costs and self-assessed effectiveness of the response to them) should be systematically recorded.


Review the case studies in the Further Resources section showing how others have applied responses.


Identify specific actions relevant to helping to build resilience for tenants, by working with both landlords and tenants.


Raise awareness of hazards and possible responses among tenants and landlords

  • Landlords need to be made aware of the potential for flooding and overheating. Over three-fifths (63%) of all private individual landlords have no relevant experience or qualifications. Only 6% of landlords are members of a relevant professional body or organisation.1 Attitudes of landlords can be a particular problem to installing insulation and measures which can reduce over-heating in private rented properties. Talks at landlord forums and other proactive targeting where resources allow could be a means of raising awareness of the issue by a local authority.
  • The tenants living in areas exposed to flooding and the landlords owning properties in such areas should be made aware of the Environment Agency's flooding resources, and the availability of Flood Warnings. Equivalent information is available for Scotland and Wales. Resources and advice are also available from the National Flood Forum
  • Tenants may need to be targeted with specific information on what to do if their house gets flooded in order to improve their ability to prepare for, respond to and recover after flooding. See advice for tenants on what to do in an event of flooding.2 See the example from the East Riding of Yorkshire showing the type of information produced by the council for private tenants. 3


Local authorities can oblige landlords to ensure that buildings comply with building regulations. In some areas, street-by-street surveys have been used to identify substandard accommodation and particular problems of inappropriate housing, such as the use of outbuildings.4


Landlords should be encouraged to insulate their properties. With regard to heat, whilst there is currently no upper limit of temperature for residential properties, a good argument for landlords to reduce potential overheating should be the fact that insulation has a benefit in summer and winter. In winter reduced energy costs can make their property more attractive to potential tenants, therefore potentially reducing the turnover rate and the associated costs of renovation, maintenance and vacancy periods, while in summer this could also assist in reducing overheating.


Landlords need to be made aware of the simple measures that they can adopt to help their tenants such as:

  • Ensuring that windows can be opened.
  • Making sure that windows can be shaded from direct sunshine, for example by providing thick curtains or blinds with reflective linings which can be closed during the day to reduce heating of the indoor environment.


Tenants should be informed about the ways of reducing their exposure to high temperatures via changes in behaviours such as:

  • Making sure that they know about the correct measures for the property that they are in, especially tenants living in homes which are likely to be most severely affected. See the Further Resources section for more detailed information about building adaptations and associated actions.


Social landlords should be made aware which type of properties are the most likely to overheat (top flats in tower blocks) and to avoid housing people who are most sensitive to high temperatures (e.g. older people, those in poor health) and others who are socially vulnerable in them.6


Since many tenants live in urban areas, there is a good case for local authorities to work with partners to provide and maintain green infrastructure which can assist in urban cooling and flood risk management. See for example Groundwork’s brochure for social landlord.7 and the material on green infrastructure.



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Actions to take

Review the recommended general actions, including information about raising awareness and working in partnership


  1. Consider the barriers to implementing building adaptations and how they might be overcome in different tenures and the role of both landlords and tenants in responses.
    • For social tenants, local authorities and housing associations could review their housing stock as part of asset management strategies to see if they own stock in areas likely to be exposed to flooding or heatwaves or types of properties which might put tenants at risk. Modernisation and maintenance programmes should be reviewed and actions incorporated which address energy efficiency and adaptation to improve the resilience of their housing stock to different forms of extreme weather, using tools and measures identified elsewhere in the website. See Using existing tools and guidance and Adapting Buildings
    • For private tenants to adapt their homes they need the support and consent of their landlords. However private landlords may be unwilling to invest in adaptation measures and can be difficult to convince. Where landlords are physically remote from their tenants, issues can be further compounded. One strategy for tackling the problem of adapting homes in the rental sector may be to use selective licensing and associated accreditation schemes (with associated approvals). Shelter’s selective licensing good practice guide for local authorities was produced in conjunction with four local authorities (Manchester City, Salford City, Middlesbrough and Blackpool).1Although the guidance makes no specific mention of climate related adaptation, schemes can cover issues associated with the health and welfare of tenants. An important consideration stressed in the guidance is that powers should only be used as part of a wider housing strategy and must account for the additional burdens placed on landlords and tenants through appropriate resourcing.   
    • Tenants may also consider developing plans and measures through their local Residents Associations. See the Further Resources sections for ideas and information about supporting community led initiatives. 


  1. Consider the opportunities to undertake adaptations which can benefit tenants. Social landlords are obliged to provide Decent Homes and refurbishment carried out through Decent Homes initiatives can offer an opportunity for retrofitting social housing to adapt to climate change at the same time. Further information on building adaptation is available elsewhere in the website. A range of case studies is available in the Further Resources section illustrating what can be done, e.g. by Octavia Housing and by Salix Homes in Salford. Additional resources relating to flooding is available from national agencies for England, Scotland and Wales. Resources and advice are also available from the National Flood Forum.


  1. Social housing providers could consider opportunities to support insurance with rent schemes where these might enable tenants to access affordable flood insurance as part of wider insurance provision in a cost effective way.


  1. Consider strengthening measures which can be taken to identify and take action against sub-standard housing, particularly where tenants are unlikely to report issues for themselves. For example, Hounslow have used a one-off grant from DCLG to carry out street-by-street surveys to identify misuse of sub-standard outbuildings by private landlords. By September 2013, this had led to 79 enforcement actions.



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Tools and resources 




Type of Resource

Local Climate Impacts Profile (LCLIP)

Designed to support the UKCIP Climate Adaptation Wizard, this tool supports the assessment of past weather-related events and their impacts as a basis for understanding the possible impacts of future weather-related events.


Guidance and Spreadsheets

Community Resilience Toolkit

Aimed at local communities and the organisations working with them, this set of resources supports the process of understanding local needs and developing emergency plans based on those needs

Cabinet Office (UK)


Reports, checklists and case studies

Severe Weather Impacts Monitoring System (SWIMS)

A data collection tool to encourage learning around the impacts of and responses to past extreme weather events as the basis for improved future decision-making.

Kent County Council

Online Tool

Example of guidance given to tenants

What happens if my privately rented house is flooded?

What happens if my privately rented house is so badly damaged by flooding that I can’t live there?

East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Online Guidance

Selective licensing for local authorities A good practice guide


Online Guidance (downloadable)

Leaflet about the benefits of greening aimed at social landlords


Online Guidance (downloadable leaflet)

Adapting UK dwellings to reduce overheating during heatwaves: Retrofit Advice Tool (CREW)

Aimed at designers, decision makers and householders to support the assessment of options for retrofitting homes based on property type and characteristics.

Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD) and De Montfort University.


Adapting Buildings

Online Tool

Housing Health and Safety Rating System Guidance for Landlords and Property Related Professionals, 2006


Department for Communities and Local Government


The Heatwave plan for England 2013 contains advice for a range of practitioners and the public:

Looking after yourself and others during hot weather – The latest advice

Supporting vulnerable people before and during a heatwave – Advice for health and social care professionals

Public Health England

Advice for different groups

A range of materials useful to help tenants become better prepared for flooding

National Flood Forum


Legal Rights and Duties relating to flooding for property owners

Covers the legal framework, frequently asked questions and a set of further resources

UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA)

Online summary of points of environmental law



Case studies and stories




Type of Resource

Personal story of the impact of flooding

Whittle et al. (2010)


Werritty, Houston, Ball, Tavendale and Black (2007), University of Dundee for Scottish Executive Exploring the Social Impacts of Flood Risk and Flooding in Scotland

“I found that my insurance was quick and everything. I mean, I know ones in my street that are council houses. They were waiting for months and months and months. Our insurance company got them in right away and started on the job”. [Glasgow]

Werrity et al. (2007)

Quote (p49)

“It’s the fact of … where are you going? You know, you’re going out your house and there’s nothing organised where you’re gonna go, what’s gonna happen to you or anything like that”. [Elgin]


Quote (p50)

Greater Manchester Local Climate Impacts Profile


Online example of an LCLIP

Starting up a flood action group, Flood Action4 Buckingham

An example of one of the 160+ flood action groups supported which bring communities together, support people through the preparation process and provide a point of contact for the variety of agencies that help to manage flooding

ClimateJust team with Roger Parkinson

Internal case study

Flood action groups

Community flood warden scheme – Doncaster

How communities and service providers in Doncaster were able to learn from flooding events in 2007 in order to develop a community flood warden scheme in affected areas.

ClimateJust team with Rosalind McDonagh, Doncaster Borough Council

Internal case study

Community Flood Warden Schemes

Case study of adapting social housing

Includes information about the process followed for identifying priorities and formulating plans for adapting a 4000 strong housing stock

Octavia Housing

Online case study (external)