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Advising migrants about the private rented sector

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

This section deals with some of the common issues faced by migrants housed in the private rented sector. The page on the law and the private rented sector provides detail on: types of occupation agreements, security of tenure, financial arrangements (e.g. deposits and rents), property conditions including overcrowding, shared houses, and harassment and illegal eviction.

The page on advising on 'right to rent' checks provides details on the lettings that are affected, which occupants must have it, advising tenants that are affected and other aspects of the scheme.

Migrants' use of the private rented sector

In Great Britain over five million households, some 19%, live in private rented housing – somewhat more than in social housing. But over 40% of those born abroad are private tenants, so migrants are three times as likely to rent privately than the population as a whole. And of those who arrived in the last five years, 80% are private tenants. You can get more information about migrants’ housing from a Migration Observatory briefing and their use of the private rented sector in this Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, which says:

‘There are … significant variations between different groups in their use of the sector. For some migrants – such as those awaiting an asylum decision or refugees who have had their status confirmed – standards, conditions and a hoped-for transition to more secure accommodation are critical issues. Other migrants may view issues such as standards, management and overcrowding as less critical factors within the choices they make about work, incomes and expenditure on accommodation.’

Migrants may be particularly vulnerable in the private rented sector because they:

  • may not know about voluntary and statutory schemes available to help access homes in the sector
  • have, or believe they have, limited choice because of their restricted contacts and knowledge, or because they are overly reliant on employers, agents or community contacts for help
  • do not know about their rights as tenants or how to enforce them
  • may be discriminated against, especially in England where document checks are required before a tenancy is offered..

Helping people find accommodation

Good advice should fill these information gaps and as an adviser you should know about your local council’s private sector strategy and any schemes it supports or promotes in your area including:

  • Landlord accreditation schemes: many local authorities either operate or approve one for their area. Both Wales and London run a single scheme for their whole areas and some landlord associations run nationwide schemes. Most schemes run the same way: landlords undertake training on good housing management and once they have passed the course are able to join and display the scheme logo. They retain their status by continuing regular training. Some schemes run awards to highlight good landlords and some councils offer incentives to join. All offer a complaints service and the facility to check whether a particular landlord is accredited. There are also national schemes for agents and some local schemes include agents. Local authorities usually insist on accreditation before they will place applicants with a landlord and/or allow them to use rent deposit, guarantee or bond schemes.
  • Private rented sector access schemes (also known as social or local lettings agencies): a social letting agency is one that specialises in finding accommodation for people with limited access, especially those on benefits. Local lettings agencies are similar, but are restricted to housing applicants from a particular area, usually a local authority (because they are usually run or sponsored by a local council as a way of meeting housing need). Some are run as part of, or in partnership with, rent guarantee/bond schemes. Some councils run schemes specifically for former council homes, because they can provide an economical housing management service that way. They all come under the umbrella of ‘access schemes’ and most can be found using the Crisis search facility.
  • Rent deposit, guarantee or bond schemes: can smooth the path of new tenants into the private rented sector by helping with the problem of finding a deposit or rent in advance. They are fairly common and Crisis provide a help to rent database although some have quite restrictive conditions – serving, for example, only those who are eligible for a full homelessness duty. Since the introduction of deposit protection (see below), most schemes now offer bonds or guarantees rather than cash deposits, helping landlords reduce their costs by avoiding deposit protection.
  • House in multiple occupation (HMO) licensing: An HMO is any dwelling with shared facilities occupied by three or more separate households. Councils are required by law to license certain categories of HMO in their area and have powers to extend this to include some or all HMOs: the legal aspects are explained here. Licensed properties should be regularly inspected and landlords must comply with a range of health and safety measures. Advisers should be familiar with any local HMO scheme in area because of the additional protection it provides to residents (see the page on the law and the private rented sector).
  • Other help with deposits and rent in advance: for those who cannot get access to a rent guarantee or bond scheme, or who are covered but now wish to move getting a deposit and rent in advance can prove very difficult. Prospective tenants often fall back on expensive credit (‘payday loans’) easily available on many high streets and online. A local credit union may offer savings products and/or more affordable credit. You can find your local credit union here. Your local authority might also offer discretionary housing payments to use for deposits: these are mentioned (p.8) in the official guidance on DHPs (pdf).

Who is there to help

There are specific departments or officers in local authorities who have important roles to play in helping private tenants.

Environmental Health Officers have a range of public health responsibilities which include enforcement of housing health and safety standards. Officers may be part of an enforcement team that targets problematic landlords. Some teams work in partnership with the police and Home Office particularly where officers suspect people with irregular immigration status are being exploited by landlords who let substandard accommodation.

Tenancy Relations Officers (TROs) work with tenants and landlords to resolve disputes and exercise local authority powers to prevent harassment and illegal eviction. Not all authorities have TROs but even if they don’t they still have the same responsibilities and powers to prevent harassment. The Association of Tenancy Relations Officers publishes guidance for TROs.

Housing Advice or the Housing Options service is the way that most authorities carry out their duty to offer advice to those at risk of homelessness, but services vary tremendously between authorities. Some prioritise ‘preventing homelessness’ through advice and finding accommodation rather than giving statutory homelessness assistance. Some services include private sector development and enforcement work. A few have developed work with local migrant communities. Advisers should be aware what is on offer from the local council and it may be useful to open discussions about how services to migrants could be improved and made more accessible.

Discrimination against migrants in housing: you will find information about how to tackle discrimination here. Private sector discrimination is difficult to monitor and police because in an open market it is difficult to prove that refusing one applicant and accepting another is discrimination. However, your local authority’s public sector equality duty (s.149 of the Equality Act 2010) extends to all of its functions and in exercising them it must have due regard to the need to:

  • ‘eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act
  • ‘advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not
  • ‘foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.’

So any private sector enforcement activity should also focus on eliminating racial discrimination. Likewise your authority should ensure that any landlords they accredit, work with or refer people to do not discriminate.

Common problems with universal credit and housing benefit

Even if they manage to access private rented housing, migrants who are on a low income may face further problems if they claim universal credit (UC) or housing benefit (HB) to help pay their rent. The requirement to provide a national insurance number can cause difficulties. Certain migrants are also excluded from UC/HB: the rules broadly mirror the right to rent rules but are more complex and restrictive. However, these other exclusions apply only to the claimant and not their partner so if one member of a couple is eligible they can make the claim instead.

The other main problem faced by all private rented claimants (migrants and non-migrants) is that the maximum benefit UC/HB will pay towards rent is set by the local housing allowance (LHA). There are five different rates for different property sizes, with the appropriate rate determined by the size of the claimant’s household. Each rate is meant to cover the rent of any property that falls within the bottom 30 percent of rents of the local market. The LHA is subject to national limits that mean in some parts of London there is only a very small number of properties with a rent that is fully covered by UC/HB.

All claims for UC/HB must be accompanied by supporting documents to prove each aspect of the claim is satisfied (identity, the rent paid, tenancy agreement, income and so on).

Homelessness and use of the private rented sector

Ways of applying as homeless to councils and who is eligible for assistance are dealt with on other pages. Local housing authorities may use private rented accommodation when performing their duty to accommodate applicants who are homeless in two ways:

  • First, to perform a main housing duty (s.193 Housing Act 1996 in England, s.75 Housing (Wales) Act 2014 in Wales) ensuring that suitable accommodation is available to an applicant until such time that an offer of a permanent home or longer-term private rented sector accommodation is made to the applicant. Your local authority will usually have arrangements with private landlords to provide an assured shorthold tenancy for this purpose. Once accepted the applicant has the same tenancy rights as any other assured shorthold tenant. However, if the landlord decides to evict them, the authority’s main housing duty is re-engaged unless the eviction is the tenant’s own fault (so becoming intentionally homeless).
  • Second, an applicant owed a main housing duty (s.193 duty in England, s.75 Housing (Wales) Act 2014 in Wales) could be made a private rented sector offer which will bring the main housing duty to an end if the applicant accepts it or refuses it. A private rented sector offer is an offer of an assured shorthold tenancy for a minimum fixed term of 12 months in England or six months in Wales. Once accepted, the authority’s duty to secure long-term accommodation is discharged. However, in England, if the applicant becomes homeless again within two years from the date the offer was accepted, they can make a fresh homeless application and do not need to show they have a priority need in order to qualify for a main housing duty (s.195A Housing Act 1996).

In England, when the authority is deciding whether a private rented sector offer is suitable, they must be satisfied that all ten factors in Article 3 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 have been complied with. These relate to physical condition of the property and the suitability of the landlord. In Wales, the accommodation is required to be in reasonable physical condition, complies with all statutory requirements (safety etc) and the landlord must be a fit and proper person to act in the capacity of landlord.

Some important points in respect of both uses of assured shorthold tenancies are:

  • the offer must be ‘suitable’ for the applicant’s needs and the members of his or her household
  • if the applicant refuses an offer of suitable accommodation, the main housing duty will usually come to an end in which case they will no longer be entitled to assistance
  • the applicant is entitled to accept the offer and still challenge the decision that the accommodation is suitable – and this must always be the safest course of action
  • the authority should if reasonably practicable secure accommodation in its own area but in high demand areas this can be very difficult, and applicants are often placed some distance away
  • the authority is required to take into account the ‘location’ of the accommodation when deciding whether or not it is suitable and in particular the factors in Article 2 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 or Article 3 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (Wales) Order 2015.