marie, 53, shares a flat with her boyfriend and their family. It’s noisy and cramped and she desperately wants to move into her own house, but she can’t. Rents are high in East Sussex, where she lives, and the property market is highly competitive, with estate agents giving priority to two-income families.
“I watch all the time, I have to move,” she said. “It’s not beneficial to my mental health or well-being here.”
Marie teaches English to refugees. “None of them can believe that their teacher is struggling to make ends meet and live somewhere. They are stunned,” she says. “I don’t need much – just a one-bed flat with a garden. It shouldn’t be too much to ask. It’s really incredible to see that I did everything right, I went to school , to university, I have two degrees, 17 years of experience in my field.”
Marie’s story is increasingly common among the over-50s. Data from the home-sharing platform SpareRoom shows a 114% increase in the number of people aged 45-55 looking for a room, and a 239% increase among people aged 55-64 between 2011 and 2021.
While some choose to share property for social reasons and because there is less stigma than in the past, many are priced to live alone.
Matt Hutchinson of SpareRoom said: “The cost of living crisis has had a huge impact on the rental market”, making it even more unaffordable than it was before the pandemic. He said it would probably “get worse before then” [it gets] better”.
Among older flat sharers, there is a mix of people who have faced life-changing circumstances and realized they can’t afford to rent alone, and long-term renters who “simply can’t afford to get up the real estate ladder,” he said. Hutchinson.
This has accelerated since the cost of living crisis began. Cohabitas, a flat-sharing platform for those over 40, has seen a 44% increase in its number of users in the past six months. The research suggests that 93% are motivated by financial reasons.
Co-founder Nick Henley said “structural housing issues” were driving the increase. “The cost of living has been an issue for people for about 20 years, but now it is reaching more people. They are more open to sharing a home due to changing social norms, and fewer have the opportunity to own a home, so all of these factors express people and accelerate what underlies them.”
He added that flat-sharing was different in later life. People are generally better at keeping the space clean, taking noise into account and respecting privacy, but there is usually less internal coziness.
Tenants over 50 who spoke to The Guardian said they weren’t spending quality time with their flatmates and felt trapped in their situation, with the skyrocketing bills shattering any hope of finding a place of their own.
Angi Long, 60, a housing association manager, said she had hoped for the “Scandinavian view of older people living together in a community, helping each other and becoming friends”. “That’s nice, but it didn’t work out,” she said. In her seven-person house, most people stay in their own room and rarely use the communal lounge.
She found it difficult to find flatshares elsewhere – “there is a huge age discrimination” – and said she felt trapped by the rising cost of living. “Looking ahead, bills are going to rise quite a bit in the coming year – do I want to be tight for another year?”
In areas where housing is expensive – a growing part of the country – many people with jobs struggle to afford a studio or a single bed, and for those with general credit, it’s even harder.
Joseph, 55, was placed by the council in a 12-person house in Sandwell after a period of homelessness. He pays £400 a month for a room in a house full of “fungi and rats,” he said. His mental health has deteriorated so much that he has suicidal thoughts.
He knows his rent should get him a better place, but landlords are reluctant to accept him and the local housing market is competitive. “I don’t know when I’ll eventually end up somewhere where my son can come over, sit with his dad and play computer games. It’s just a no-win situation.”
His frustration is shared by Martin, who turns 60 this year. Unable to work for health reasons, he can only afford a room shared in a house with a rotating cast of low-skilled, low-paid temps. He is a long-term renter after a home he bought in the early 1990s fell into negative equity during a market crash, preventing him from taking out a new mortgage.
He has to move frequently because of “Homes Under the Hammer”-esque landlords who fix up properties, rent them out short and resell them to make money, and he doesn’t like low standards and roommates who are “noisy, inattentive to others, the not keep the place clean and tidy”.
He wants to be able to “put more emphasis on stability” and move to his own place, but he said “it feels like my choices are pretty limited”.
He had a gloomy view of the silver linings of his situation: “If nothing else, I’ve learned to accept a little more now. You have to deal with where you are and what you have. It’s not ideal, but the owner of the property [where he now lives] is decent, and the agent is crappy but manageable.”