Since the beginning of the 1990s, growth in privately rented housing in England and Wales began to reverse a prolonged period of decline. In high-cost housing areas the sector is increasingly acting as a stop-gap for those seeking to enter owner-occupation, while in less economically buoyant areas it is accommodating households who would previously have been more likely to live in social housing. This paper reveals that some of the strongest proportional growth in the sector has been in less prosperous areas where it has traditionally been under-represented and that the sector is housing an increasing proportion of economically inactive tenants. However, in key cities, particularly London, the sector’s growth has been influenced by increasing numbers of mobile workers and students. More recently, growth has been influenced by ‘buy-to-let’ mortgages, borrowing constraints and homeowners unable to sell.