Big gaps in home ownership information

ROB STOCK
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2013
For rent
TENANTED: In the latest Census, just under 29 per cent of people say they rent.

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Home ownership appears to be falling Census 2013 data shows, but a leading researcher at the University of Auckland questions whether the data can be trusted.

Michael Littlewood from the university's Retirement Policy and Research Centre says shortcomings in the Census questions surrounding home ownership mean we do not really know what proportion of respondents have an ownership interest in the home they live in.

The data published by Statistics New Zealand shows that on Census night, at least 60 per cent of occupied dwellings were owned by the occupants, with 46 per cent owning them directly, with another 14 per cent having an interest in them through a family trust they were connected with.

Just under 29 per cent said they rented their home, a figure which was up from just over 26 per cent in 2006.

But Littlewood highlights the 11 per cent of dwellings occupied on 2013 Census night where respondents didn't make the ownership status clear, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions.

That "gap" has the potential to skew any analysis of home ownership rates, he says.

There is a bigger dark area still, as some renters may well be homeowners in other towns. That's the 12 per cent of all dwellings - some 185,000 in all - where nobody was in on Census night so nobody responded to questions on ownership. The highest proportion of those were in Christchurch.

Overall, there was no ownership information on 362,283 dwellings or 20.6 per cent of the total stock.

"Because the 2013 Census questions were the same as those used in 2006, the gaps persist so while Statistics New Zealand claims that home-ownership rates continue to fall, the Census data does not actually provide proof of that," Littlewood said.

"All we can really say is that, of Census respondents who gave an identifiable answer in respect of occupied dwellings, the proportion owned directly or through family trusts fell from 61.7 per cent of all occupied dwellings in 2006 to 59.9 per cent in 2013," Littlewood said.

"Given the importance of home-ownership to a number of statistics on saving, living standards and preparation for retirement, such qualified data needs improvement."

One trend that the Census data does show though, is that the holdings of houses in family trusts continues to rise with the number having risen from 167,922 in 2006 to 215,283 in 2013. Again though, many of the unoccupied dwellings and some of those where the occupants failed to answer the questions or did so illegibly, may also have been owned by family trusts.

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