The number of private rented homes has dropped by 46,000 as landlords flee the buy to let market, according to official figures.

Private rented homes still comprise a significant sector of the market, says the Office of National Statics’ Dwelling Stock Estimates for England for the year to the end of March 2017.

As private rentals decreased to 4.8 million, the number of owner occupied properties rose by 262,000 to 15.1 million.

The remainder of the country’s 23.9m homes are in the hands of social housing groups.

The survey charts the rise of buy to let since 2001.

Last year was the first time in almost two decades the sector recorded a decline in the number of homes.

The statistics show buy to let had a 10.1% share of the housing stock in 2001, while social housing had 20%, with the roles reversing in the intervening years.

Private rented homes now represent one in five (20%) of all homes in England, compared to 16.9% for social housing.

The ministry suggests the fall in the number of properties could be the result of the 3% surcharge private landlords must pay on buying a home to rent.

In a separate report, property consultants Cushman & Wakefield found buy to let mortgage lending was down 47% since the introduction of the 3% stamp duty surcharge in 2016 – and 64% lower than in the run-up to the 2007-08 financial crash.

The research also found that although landlords are selling buy to let homes, few property investors are in the market to buy.

Letting agent trade group ARLA Kitemark also confirmed landlords are leaving the market.

Agents confirmed five landlords quit for every branch in April – the highest level since 2015 after consistently sitting at three leavers a month since April 2017.