How many landlords are there in Scotland?

How many landlords are there in Scotland? You'd be forgiven for assuming this is a simple enquiry with a simple response. However, despite its growth, the private rented sector remains difficult to study. In this blog, UBDC Associate Director Nick Bailey explores the diverse datasets that could be used to attempt to answer this question and explains the public value of getting a credible answer.

 

The private rented sector continues to grow apace in Scotland – reaching 15 per cent of all housing in the latest Scottish Household Survey estimates, a trebling in size since 1999. It remains a sector dominated by a large number of landlords who own a very small number of properties – often just one or two.

The large number of landlords makes the task of raising standards in the sector that much harder. With many involved on only a part-time basis, it is difficult to ensure that all of them understand their legal obligations. Standards are not necessarily worse with small landlords but they are likely to be more variable.

It can also add to the churning of properties and hence the insecurity of the tenure as small landlords are more likely to be short-term investors. That’s why governments in Scotland and the UK have been keen to encourage more institutional investment.

So how many people in Scotland are landlords?

Estimate from surveys

One approach is to piece together a picture from surveys and other research. The details are shown in the table below but, in summary, these suggest there were around 262,000 private rented dwellings owned by individual investors in 2015/16. Allowing for the fact that some people own more than one property while some properties have more than one owner, the number of individual landlords would be about 223,000. That’s about 1-in-20 of the adult population.

Ask the tax office

A second approach is to ask the tax office, HMRC, how many people declare an income from renting private dwellings on their tax returns. This is unlikely to be a complete count of the number of landlords. HMRC won’t know about some because they have no taxable income to declare after allowing for rent lost during void periods and legitimate expenses. And they won’t know about others who have taxable income but fail to declare it (tax evasion). But it is at least a minimum estimate.

In response to a recent Parliamentary Question, HMRC figures showed some 143,000 individuals living in Scotland declaring income from any kind of property in 2015/16(1).  Even assuming that all of these own private rented accommodation (rather than, say, renting out shops or business premises), this is about one-third less than the estimate from surveys and suggests something like 80,000 people may be renting private property but not declaring any income from it for tax purposes.

As I noted, there are quite legitimate reasons why some - or indeed many - of these people would not be on the HMRC’s list. Nevertheless, there are good grounds here for HMRC to make more pro-active efforts to identify the non-payers.

Look at the Landlord Register

A third approach is to look at the number of registered landlords. The estimate from this source might understate the true number to some extent because some landlords fail to register. On the other hand, it might overstate it because registrations continue for three years, regardless of whether a property continues to be let. Even so, it is probably our most reliable source at present.

Unfortunately, neither Scottish Government nor local authorities choose to make this information available. As I have previously argued, it is high time we started putting the data held in the registration system to work for the public benefit. One first step might be to follow the example of Newham Council in London and share the data with HMRC to help identify tax underpayment(2).  Since any additional tax revenues generated would flow to Scottish Government, they would seem to have a clear interest in pursuing this.

 

Table 1: Summary of survey-based estimate of number of landlords

No. of properties rented from private landlords in Scotland, 2015

310000

Scottish Household Survey 2016 report: Table 3.1

     

Percent owned by individual/couple (rather than company)

84%

Crook et al (2009: p29)

     

Number owned by individual/couple

262,000

 
     

Average portfolio size for individual/couple

1.7

Derived from Crook et al (2009)

     

Number of portfolios

150,000

 
     

Split between individuals and couples

   

Percent owned by individual

51%

Crook et al (2009: p29)

Percent owned by couple

49%

(Ignoring cases with 3+ owners)

     

Estimated number of individual owners

223,000

 

 

Notes

1) Landlords: Taxation:Written question - 105116 on the UK Parliament website. Curiously, HMRC gave a response to a Freedom of Information request just a few weeks earlier which suggested there were just 73,000 people in Scotland paying tax on property income. While they have said they believe the later response to the PQ to be more accurate, they have not yet explained why there was such a massive discrepancy.

2) 'Half of landlords in one London borough fail to declare rental income' article on The Guardian website.

 

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Author: Nick Bailey

Nick Bailey is Associate Director of the Centre with particular responsibility for the confidential data service. He is a Professor in Urban Studies, based in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

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