Housing in Portsmouth

The bedroom tax is hitting vulnerable and disabled people in Portsmouth – a Labour Government will scrap the bedroom tax.

Many tenants in Portsmouth are struggling to pay their rents because of the cost of living crisis – Labour will crack down on complicated letting agents’ fees, introduce a national register of landlords, and bring in longer term tenancies with predictable rents.

 Many people in Portsmouth live in bad housing conditions with poor heating and insulation – Labour will make 5 million homes more energy efficient by 2025.

Portsmouth has a shortage of affordable housing – Labour will get 200,000 homes built a year across the country by 2020, including more homes for social and affordable rent.


Bedroom tax demo
Bedroom Tax Demo


Portsmouth’s population has grown by nearly 10% since 2001 and is predicted to grow a further 4.5% by 2021. The 208,900 city residents live in the most densely populated area outside of London. Population change is not spread evenly with some wards, particularly St Thomas and Charles Dickens, seeing more growth than others. Overcrowding is a significant issue, caused by the higher percentage of smaller dwellings, socioeconomic characteristics, the levels of houses in multiple occupancy and the higher occupancy levels amongst students. The sizeable student population impacts upon the housing market.

Around 80% of households in Portsmouth are in the private sector. Owner-occupiers make up the majority of households, representing 55% (although this is less than the 64% of owner occupiers across the UK). The biggest change in the last ten years has been an increase in the number of households, including students, renting from a private landlord or letting agency, making up around 25% of all households. Around 18% of households are in the social rented (council and housing association) sector. While many people’s rents are high, Portsmouth residents’ weekly earnings are below the UK average.

Portsmouth has an unusually high proportion of older housing, some in poor condition. Portsmouth has a high rate of homelessness and a static waiting list. Enough affordable housing for purchase or rent is not being built and there is no social rented housing in the pipeline.

red brick


Key issues

Portsmouth’s poorest households are being punished by the bedroom tax

1442 households in Portsmouth have had housing benefits reduced due to the bedroom tax and only around 400 have been helped by discretionary payments.

The spare room subsidy/ ‘bedroom tax’ is intended to address the issue of under-occupation in social rented housing. It limits housing benefit entitlements for those of working age in the social housing sector to reflect family size: they lose 14% of benefits for one spare bedroom, 25% for more. They are supposed to downsize to free up family accommodation.  Nationally two thirds of those affected have been disabled people. The effect of the bedroom tax in Portsmouth: 1442 households have had benefits reduced (1024 council, 418 housing association). As there are about 16,000 council and housing association homes in the city, the bedroom tax is affecting 1 in 11 – a high figure.

The Government makes a hardship fund available: the city has £ 547,000 for Discretionary Housing Payment this year. There have been 603 applications and 434 payments, although not all these will be related to bedroom tax issues. People have to present to claim and many may be too proud to do so, preferring to skip meals or going into rent arrears. This implies that some of those affected have been helped to stay by discretionary payments, some are staying without payments and struggling, and some have moved, possibly unsatisfactorily.

Case study – bedroom tax

Portsmouth family B has one autistic child and two other children. This family had to move to the next door, council rented flat from 3 to 2 bedroom accommodation after losing benefit due to the bedroom tax. The parents are now sleeping in the living room to give their autistic child a bedroom to himself and alleviate his personal issues, while the other two children share the remaining bedroom. The psychological effect of watching someone else going in and out of what was their family home for many years adds to their difficulties.

What a Labour Government would do

Abolish the bedroom tax (Labour in Portsmouth has campaigned locally for no evictions due to the bedroom tax).

 Private Rented Sector

The private rented sector in Portsmouth is large: 25% of all households and rising, due to a lack of affordable housing and stricter waiting list criteria since 2011. Average private sector rents in Portsmouth are running at about £170 per week, while residents’ median weekly earnings for all workers are £376 (UK £417) and for full-time workers £474 (UK £518). Private sector rents are rising across the UK, while earnings are not keeping pace, leading to an increase in the housing benefit bill. Households, including young people and families with children, may be experiencing insecurity in employment due to part-time or low-paid work, alongside insecurity of tenure in private rented accommodation.

Key issues in Portsmouth are: affordability of rents, insecurity of shorthold tenures, letting agents’ fees, repairs                                               and poor housing conditions (see Decent Homes below). The council supports the local landlord accreditation scheme which encourages and recognises improved property standards in the city and it licenses certain homes under multiple occupancy (eg shared student housing).

What a Labour Government would do

  • Legislate to make longer term tenancies with predictable rents the norm.
  • Regulate letting agents so that instead of a free-for-all consumers get a fair deal.
  • Crack down on complicated letting agents’ fees to ensure rip-offs do not happen.
  • Introduce a national register of landlords so councils can take action against the minority who exploit their tenants.

The Lyons Review , which has been broadly endorsed by Labour, recommends encouraging local authorities to use their full range of enforcement powers and reducing barriers to the introduction of local licensing schemes.

Decent Homes

Portsmouth has the highest excess winter death rate of 19 comparator authorities and one in five of our older population lives in poverty, more in our areas of highest deprivation. Fuel poverty is more prevalent in the private sector (15% of households) and it affects 48% of those households on the lowest incomes in Portsmouth, including parts of Southsea and Paulsgrove/Wymering. Portsmouth has an unusually high proportion of older housing and there is a strong link between excess winter deaths and cold and damp homes – often private houses built before 1850. A 2008 survey found that just over 1/3rd of private rented and owner occupied housing failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard with the main reason being poor heating and insulation. The council offers advice on ways to improve or adapt homes in the city, including grants and low cost loans which it provides itself.

Case study – repairs and maintenance

Portsmouth single woman C has been in constant battles over the years with her housing association and the council to get repairs done on her flat. The main issue is of damp causing ill health, breathing difficulties and ruining items of clothing and shoes. The stress of constantly asking the authorities to get work done also leads to depression and physical ailments.  Many tenants give up trying to get work done and then the situation gets worse both in their physical environment and their health.

What a Labour Government would do

  • Make 5 million homes more energy efficient by 2025.
  • Introduce a national register of landlords so councils can take action against the minority who exploit their tenants.

Shortage of affordable housing

Figures for the existing stock of social rented housing in Portsmouth are: council housing about 10,000 and housing association about 6,000 (including shared ownership).

Council housing stock fell by nearly 500 homes between 2001 and 2011 from 13.3% of all tenures to 11.7%, in large part because of the Right to Buy, although some council housing has been built in recent years eg in Somerstown & North Southsea. Housing association social rent tenures rose by 1500 from 5.2% to 6.6%. The overall effect means that the number of social rented homes has been static over ten years and with the introduction of the affordable rent tenure this will now decline (see figures below on new supply). NB Housing associations under the current government’s funding regime get more grant for affordable rents which are 80% of open market rents and hence much higher than social rents. The council is having some success in enforcing the proportion of affordable housing in new private developments, but to get more of the type and size needed would be welcome.

Compared with 19 similar authorities, Portsmouth has the highest rate of statutory homelessness, which is also significantly higher than the England and South East average. The rate is reducing but the main reasons remain domestic violence, lack of security of private sector tenures, and expense of the private sector – made worse by changes to housing benefit.

The city’s waiting list (housing register) has restrictive criteria for eligibility for affordable housing through the local connection criteria it imposes, although this helps meet criticism about favourable treatment for immigrants. As at September 2014 it stands at 1,562 households, which refers both to new applicants seeking Council / Registered Provider accommodation for the first time, but also to existing tenants (city council and housing associations) who require a move to alternative, usually larger, accommodation. They all have an urgent need for housing, at below market rents, for a variety of reasons such as poor health, overcrowding and homelessness. The list has been static for some years and is not coping with need, with added pressure from bedroom tax downsizers. Also types of housing coming forward don’t match locality demand: people are closely tied to their neighbourhoods and reluctant to move which means that new schemes can be hard to let.

The following figures show how the requirements of those in greatest need are not being met.

Type of affordable housing          2012/13        2013/14         2014/15

Social rent                                                  113                     2                             0

Affordable Rent                                       33                   156                        233

Low Cost Home Ownership             6                       23                            65

(Shared Ownership)

The numbers are rising but nowhere near enough to meet demand and rents are rising in a switch from social rent to affordable rent. No social rented housing let alone council-house building is in the pipeline to be built. The Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) reports that “there is a clear justification for authorities to secure the maximum viable level of affordable housing on development schemes”. Their report concludes that there is justification for 770 affordable homes per year in Portsmouth and it also concludes that of the 73% of affordable housing which needs to be rented accommodation then 10.7% should be affordable rented homes and 62.3% social rented homes.

The Portsmouth Plan recognises that there are very few large sites available for development in the city, but sets the aim of providing 420-490 new homes every year from 2010 – 2027, including affordable housing. The main focus for these is on Tipner, Port Solent & Horsea Island, Somerstown & North Southsea and the city centre.  Proposed developments on the NHS St James’ Hospital site and the University’s Langstone campus, which could provide 370 + 110 = 480 new homes, are controversial because of possible loss of green open space and the effect  on wildlife, roads, schools, health services and sewerage, highlighted by the Keep Milton Green campaign. The council wants more time to create a masterplan for the Milton area.

A sizeable increase in house-building might need to include developments outside the Portsmouth City Council area.

Case study – overcrowding

Portsmouth family A has been waiting 14 years for a four-bedroom house. Husband, wife and mother-in-law live with four children aged 3, 5, 12 and 15 in three-bedroom housing association rented accommodation. The mother is a full time carer for her mother-in-law who is now frail, confused and showing early signs of dementia.  They have one toilet between them and the stress is beginning to show.  The mother is on anti-depressants and her 15 year old daughter struggles to carry out her studies. They investigated a mortgage to buy (the father works full time) but couldn’t raise the large deposit needed.

What a Labour Government would do

  • Get 200,000 homes built a year by 2020, including more homes for social and affordable rent, creating up to 230,000 construction jobs.
  • Devolve more powers to local authorities so that they can reduce the housing benefit bill and keep some of the proceeds to reinvest in housing.
  • Unblock the supply of new homes by giving local authorities “use it or lose it” powers over developers who refuse to build on land that has planning permission for year after year.
  • Local authorities will be able to designate new ‘Housing Growth Areas’ with proportion of homes reserved for first-time buyers from the area.
  • Drive more competition in the house building industry, increasing capacity, and expanding the number of small firms.
  • Boost the role of small housebuilders with councils giving them greater access to land and a Help to Build guarantee scheme to increase their access to finance.
  • Give communities a bottom-up ‘right to grow’ when they are being blocked by their neighbours.
  • Work to raise skills and standards in the house-building and house-maintenance sector through Labour’s policies on vocational education, training and apprenticeships (including through procurement of government contracts).

NB. A Labour government will not repeal the Right to Buy, but the Lyons Housing Review recommends reforming it to enable councils and Housing Associations to re-invest in genuine one-for-one replacement: ‘a new government should undertake an early review of the Right to Buy to establish whether it is meeting its policy objectives, the distribution of receipts from sales and on the total level of affordable housing stock’.

We would support more research into the impact of the St James’ Hospital and  Langstone developments.

Help to Buy

As the house price to median earnings ratio for Portsmouth is 5.62, lower than UK 6.7 and Hampshire 8, houses are relatively affordable for purchase in Portsmouth.

As at 30 April 2014, there were 504 households registered with Help to Buy South that are seeking accommodation in Portsmouth.

Labour supports Help to Buy but recognises it risks pushing up prices further out of reach by boosting demand without significantly increasingly supply

Key facts:

  •  Under David Cameron the number of new homes being built is just half of that which is needed.
  • This Government has presided over the lowest levels of house-building in peacetime since the 1920s.
  • Home ownership has declined to its lowest level in 30 years.
  • By 2020 the average deposit for a home in the UK will be £72,000
  • A fifth of councils have not even published a local plan for development
  • Land allocated for residential development has declined by 60% between 1989 and 2011 despite growing demand for housing.
  • New research from the House of Commons library reveals that David Cameron’s cost of living crisis has led to a 60% increase in the number of working people needing to claim housing benefit to pay their rent since 2010. 400,000 more working people are claiming housing benefit, costing the taxpayer an estimated extra £4.8bn in housing benefit over the course of this Parliament. Every single local authority in the UK has seen an increase in the number of people in work claiming housing benefit.
  • Housing benefit is costing £24bn a year. 5 million people are on housing benefit – a third are in the private rented sector and more than 1 million are working people. Rising rents, part-time or low-paid work, and shortage of affordable housing are increasing the housing benefit bill.


Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) which was commissioned by the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH). The report was compiled by consultants using data from 2013 and approved by PUSH early in 2014.

Click here to read the PUSH report in full.


Click here for Portsmouth Facts and Figures.

Useful websites:

The Homes for Britain campaign

Generation Rent

Report compiled by David Wardle, with research by John Lancaster. Case studies provided by Sue Castillon.

Community Activist