It’s a little-known fact that there are now nearly four million homes being privately let compared with only two million in 2000. One factor pushing the rising demand is migration, because new migrants are three times more likely to be in the sector than a typical member of the settled population. This is not surprising, of course: despite the myths about migrants getting social housing, the numbers that do so within five years of arriving in the UK are tiny. Mostly they aren’t eligible and – even if they are – may struggle to get an allocation from a council or housing association.
Why this is an issue?
New migrants join other vulnerable sections of the population in looking for private lettings at rents they can afford – and may end up in poor conditions, without proper tenancies and paying exorbitant rents. More and more vulnerable people will be pushed into the sector by government changes in welfare benefits and in the rules for how councils can meet their homelessness duties. They compete with others pushed into private renting because they can’t afford to buy or can’t raise a high enough deposit. Despite government assertions to the contrary, all the evidence points to rising rents, as supply grows but still can’t meet the demand.
While the media has given plenty of attention to the position of many vulnerable households, especially in London, the position of migrants in private renting has been neglected. That’s why the Housing and Migration Network decided to launch an investigation into migrant housing conditions in the sector and how they can be improved. Its latest report, UK migrants and the private rented sector, is aimed at housing bodies but is also vitally important to migrant organisations and for lobbying the government about the need to consider migrants’ housing conditions.
One of the main issues faced by migrants and those aiming to assist them is that new arrivals normally access private lettings through employers or through family or friends. Few make use of high street agencies or mainstream advice services through local authorities or bodies like Shelter. Many are ignorant of their rights or scared of exercising them in case they lose both their accommodation and their job.
If houses are multi-occupied and poorly managed, this affects not only the residents but also their neighbours, causing tensions in an area. In some places, property conversions by landlords responding to demand from migrant workers have occurred so fast that it has overwhelmed the resources of the local authority and others to tackle the resultant problems. For example, in Thetford in Norfolk, multi-occupied properties grew from 40 to over 400 in only four years after EU migrants began to arrive to get ‘pick, pluck and pack’ jobs.
What can be done?
The report highlights a range of good practice, some of which has sprung up in response to migrants’ housing conditions. For example, in East Sussex a toolkit has been developed for environmental health and other staff, based on work with migrant groups to understand their issues. Five housing organisations in different areas are working through the HACT Accommodate project to set up private sector leasing or access schemes, aimed at new migrants: those in Bolton and Bury and in Haringey have just begun.
The report emphasises that many of the projects already underway to improve conditions in the sector more generally, such as local lettings schemes or licensing of multi-occupied property, can all help migrants too – especially if their needs and barriers to access are taken into account from the start. Although not included in the report, a new scheme to license multi-occupied properties in Goole was developed specifically because of levels of migrant demand and the poor conditions that were being provide by some landlords.
Main messages to stakeholders
The report has a message to government from the Network members (HACT, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Migration Foundation of Metropolitan Housing Partnership), which has been endorsed by a range of bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Landlords Association.
It is that – at a time when resources are extremely limited – migrants are one of several different and vulnerable groups who are making increasing use of the private rented sector. While the Network is not calling for more regulation, it does believe that government can stimulate much wider use of the available powers by local authorities.
The housing minister has ‘put councils on alert’ to use their powers more vigorously. But he could also positively promote the range of different solutions pointed to in the report, in which a number of authorities and housing associations are finding ways to secure better standards in the sector, not only by tackling the ‘rogue landlords’ but by facilitating access to good lettings by groups, like migrants, who often have difficulty in finding them.
Original post and comments: Migration Pulse