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Housing advisers

Advising refugees, asylum seekers and people with discretionary leave and humanitarian protection

This page is for housing advisers.  If you are a new arrival please click here for information more relevant to you.

This section looks at common housing problems that asylum seekers and refugees and other people given leave through the asylum process may face. It includes some references to relevant case law, and links to the relevant regulations.

What are the housing and benefit rights of refugees, etc?

Refugees, people with discretionary leave and humanitarian protection, are all eligible for an allocation of housing from the council, to get help if they become homeless and to claim universal credit or housing benefit, without any further requirement that they are habitually resident. They can also get advice and information to prevent homelessness or to find accommodation when homeless, and local authorities must ensure that such advice meets the needs of particular groups of people including those leaving hospital or prison, people with mental health needs and care leavers. They can also get accommodation from housing associations and private landlords.

This applies equally when they have limited or indefinite leave to remain and also when they are waiting for renewal of that leave, as long as they applied before the previous leave ran out. Further information is available about the law on housing eligibility and universal credit and housing benefit.

People arriving in the UK on special resettlement programmes may have different rights:

  • The Gateway Protection Programme brings refugees from various parts of the world to the UK with refugee status and indefinite leave to remain.
  • The Syrian Resettlement Programme (started in 2014) gives selected people from Syria humanitarian protection for five years.
  • Dubs children”, unaccompanied children stranded in Europe and their dependants, get leave via section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016.
  • "Calais leave” gives five years leave to remain to people who came to be reunited with family members in the UK as a result of the clearance of the Calais camps between 17th October 2016 and 13th July 2017.

People covered by all these schemes are eligible for housing and benefits in England and Wales.

The special programme for Afghan interpreters and support staff (announced in 2013) brings people with five years limited leave to remain, who may then apply to settle. Leave is granted within the immigration rules with no conditions about recourse to public funds. They are eligible for housing benefit and for a housing allocation provided they are habitually resident. However, a local authority which signs up to the programme agrees to provide accommodation initially and then assist in finding permanent housing, so entitlement to housing and homelessness help may only be an issue for people if they move or become homeless. People granted leave as family members of those admitted via this programme (presumably not those who arrived on the programme itself) are also eligible as Class F for allocations and Class G for homelessness. 

Rules about who can actually apply for a housing allocation in England now vary between local authority areas, because the Localism Act 2011 enables councils to set their own local rules about who can apply to be on a housing register or waiting list. Changes in the rules cannot discriminate directly or indirectly against particular nationalities or ethnic groups (for more on this see the page on what is discrimination?). The new rules do not affect homelessness assistance and do not apply to Wales.

Making an application to a local authority for homelessness help is not straightforward, especially for single people, and the Refugee Council has produced a guide on doing so in England, which includes a template application letter.

Special arrangements for accommodating asylum seekers are described briefly on the page for refugees and asylum seekers. If an asylum seeker has spent time in local authority owned accommodation (supplied on contract to the Home Office) while waiting for a decision, this ‘counts’ as qualifying time as a public sector tenant for the purposes of exercising the right to buy should s/he later become a secure tenant and wish to buy their home.

People who are stateless with limited leave

From the 24 August 2020, a person who has been granted limited leave (usually five years) as a stateless person and who is habitually resident is entitled to universal credit or housing benefit and in England (and from 19 March 2021, in Wales), help from the local authority if they are homeless or to find a social tenancy. A stateless person is someone who does not meet the criteria for asylum but who has no right of permanent residence in their country of origin. You can find more information here.

What about the family members of refugees and people seeking asylum etc?

The husband/wife/civil partner of a refugee and their children are covered by the refugee status as well, even if they have just arrived or have not yet sorted out their status, as long as the relationship was in existence when the refugee left their home to seek asylum. So they are all eligible for housing and homelessness services and for universal credit or housing benefit, even if their documentation does not say that they have refugee status (R (Jimaali) v Haringey LBC, QBD (AC) Legal Action, November 2002, p24).

The family members of people with other types of status are usually included in any asylum application and get leave in line with the applicant. If they arrive later, they must apply to stay through the asylum system, and will be asylum seekers until they get leave. Until they are eligible themselves, they cannot confer 'priority need' on a homeless applicant, but they can be included in any application to go on to the housing register. And households not in priority need should still get an assessment of their needs and a plan to find accommodation if they go to the local council for help. Their details must be included in any applications for housing benefit but only the person with leave to remain can apply for the benefit and he or she will be awarded benefit as a single person.

If the family members have nowhere to live, they can apply to the Home Office for accommodation as asylum seekers and can include the person with leave in the application, but it is likely that the family will be offered 'dispersed' accommodation on a no-choice basis anywhere in the UK. Asylum support will be offered as a top-up to any income from the person with leave.

Discrimination against refugees and others with leave

Refugees and others with limited leave to remain often report discrimination against them by housing providers who refuse to deal with their applications until they have indefinite leave to remain, or refuse to house them while they are waiting for a renewal application to be approved. This may be unlawful discrimination and should be challenged. In the private rented sector, this may be a particular problem in England where 'right to rent' checks now have to be carried out.

Benefit problems

If an application for asylum (or discretionary leave, etc.) is finally determined following an appeal to an immigration tribunal the right to benefit only starts from the date the leave is granted (i.e. from the date s/he receives the Home Office decision letter or his/her passport is endorsed) – not from the date of the successful appeal even though the decision of the immigration tribunal means that the grant of leave from the Home Office will inevitably follow.

Refugees and others with limited leave to remain often face delays whilst their claim for UC/HB/CTR is processed. Their claim is dependent on them (or if they have a partner both of them) having applied for or being allocated a national insurance number.

Local connection

A person who has applied for asylum and who has been provided with Home Office accommodation at any time under the asylum support provisions (s95 Immigration and Asylum Act 1999) has a local connection with the local authority in which that accommodation is situated. However, this rule does not apply:

  • to initial accommodation provided by the Home Office before an applicant is dispersed to s95 accommodation
  • to accommodation provided by the Home Office to a person whose asylum application has been refused but who cannot yet leave the UK (sometimes called 'hard case' or s4 accommodation)
  • where an applicant was subsequently provided with Home Office accommodation in another local authority district (this has the effect of 'wiping out' all such local connections except that to the last place where the applicant lived in Home Office accommodation before getting a decision on their immigration status).

The law is slightly different if

  • the applicant has been dispersed to Scotland, and
  • s/he has no local connection in England, Scotland or Wales, and
  • s/he applies as homeless to an English or Welsh authority.

In these cases the authority to which the application is made has discretion to provide temporary accommodation for a period to give the applicant a reasonable opportunity to find accommodation (presumably including the option of applying in Scotland).

No type of local connection is more or less important than any other. For example if the applicant applies in an area where s/he has a local connection through work or previous residence with a friend, that authority has to deal with the application, even if the applicant has apparently stronger local connections in other areas.

If the application is made in an area where the applicant has no local connection, but s/he does have a connection in two or more other areas, then their wishes should be taken into account (i.e. whether they have a preference) before the referral is made.

Problems with asylum support accommodation

A person who has claimed asylum (at a port or airport or in the UK according to the rules on where and how asylum can be claimed) becomes an 'asylum seeker' and remains one until his/her asylum application is finally determined (all appeals resolved). For a new asylum claim, if the applicant says that they have no accommodation and/or support, this will be provided, initially to assess the need (this is called Section 98 support), and then until the claim ends (called Section 95 support). Section 95 support includes accommodation, if needed, on a no-choice basis, provided by contractors to the Home Office and money (at significantly below UK benefit levels) paid via local post offices on a card.

Accommodation for asylum seekers is offered on a no choice basis and supplied by contractors to the Home Office, mostly in areas of lower housing demand. Exceptional circumstances justifying a request for accommodation in a specific area are described in Home Office guidance. Asylum seekers offered tenancies (for example of flats and houses, as opposed to rooms in hostels, etc. which are more likely to be licences) have restricted rights. Landlords can evict them once the tenancy has ended without getting a court order.  In practice, this option is rarely used.  In other respects, asylum support accommodation is subject to the same law and regulation in relation to overcrowding, health and safety, houses in multiple occupation, etc. as any other accommodation. There is more detail on asylum support on the page on advising destitute migrants.

The Home Office provides guidance for asylum seekers staying in temporary accommodation and how to deal with problems they might meet. It is published in Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, Kurdish, Pashto, Punjabi, Tigrinya, and Urdu.

The Asylum Support Appeals Project has a comprehensive set of useful factsheets on most aspects of the asylum support system. 

Chartered Institute of Housing

Background Topics

How can we improve housing for new migrants in the UK?

Chartered Institute of Housing