Home ownership in England fell for the second year in a row last year, sliding to its lowest level since 1998, according to government statistics.
Owner occupation grew as council houses were sold off
The number of owner-occupiers dropped by 83,000 to 14.54 million, taking the rate of home ownership down to 69.8%.
An analysis by the Halifax bank suggested that the main reason for the drop was high prices driving potential home buyers out of the market.
A housing boom during the past decade has seen price growth outstrip incomes.
The Halifax's chief economist Martin Ellis said that: "The fall in the total number of owner-occupied households in England in 2007 largely reflects the increasing affordability difficulties faced by many potential purchasers as a result of the rapid rise in recent years."
"The figures for owner-occupancy clearly demonstrate that these affordability issues are most pronounced among younger people and in southern parts of England," he added.
The figures analysed by the Halifax were originally compiled and published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
They showed that across England the number of people owning their own homes outright rose by 81,000, an increase of 1.3%.
However, that was outweighed by a fall of 164,000, or 2%, in the number of people buying a home with a mortgage.
The fall was particularly pronounced among younger age groups, with owner-occupiers aged between 25 and 34 declining by 322,000 between 2001 and 2006, the DCLG said.
Owner occupation in the UK boomed from the 1950s onwards, overtaking the private rented sector in 1961. It got a further boost from the right-to-buy policies granted to council tenants in the 1980s.
After rising from 57% in 1981 to a peak of 71% in 2000, the rate of owner-occupation has stalled and has now begun to fall slightly.
The biggest fall in owner-occupation in the past few years has been in London. Between 2001 and 2006 the number of owner-occupiers in the capital dropped by 111,000, a fall of 6.3%.
One factor acting as a drag on owner occupation has been the growth of private landlords using buy-to-let mortgages.
This has helped revive the private rental sector, with about 10% of all new mortgages now being given to people buying a property in order to let it.
But this has led to accusations that many would-be home owners have been priced out of the market by prospective landlords.
Critics complain that many buy-to-let landlords have been able to obtain bigger mortgages, financing more expensive house purchases, than other ordinary buyers could normally afford.