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CIH Scotland

Housing advisers

Advising migrants about the private rented sector

This page is for housing advisors. If you are a new arrival please click here to go to sections more relevant for you.

This section deals with some of the common issues faced by migrants housed in the private rented sector. The section 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.

Migrants' use of the private rented sector

In Great Britain over five million households, or 20%, live in private rented housing – more than in social housing. But 38% of those born abroad are private tenants, so migrants are nearly twice as likely to rent privately than the population as a whole.  And of migrants who have been in Britain for only 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
  • not know about their rights as tenants or how to enforce them.

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 licensing: Scotland has a compulsory scheme in which all landlords have to be registered with a local authority via Landlord Registration Scotland. Registration establishes that the landlord is a ‘fit and proper person’ (e.g. has no criminal record). Licensing will also be extended to agents in the near future. Local authorities will insist on licensing and possibly on accreditation (see below) before they will place applicants with a landlord and before allowing them to use rent deposit, guarantee or bond schemes (where they exist).
  • Accreditation: Scotland also has a national accreditation scheme to which 19 local authorities (including Glasgow) are signed up. In accreditation schemes, landlords voluntarily 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.  Scotland’s scheme requires landlords to meet the Scottish Core Standards for Accredited Landlords (pdf).  Accreditation schemes offer a complaints service and the facility to check whether a particular landlord is accredited. Scotland’s scheme also covers letting agents.  
  • Letting agent regulation: The Scottish Government has established a regulatory regime for letting agents. All letting agents now have to abide by a mandatory Code of Practice and apply to be entered on a national register. In order to be entered onto the register, the agent has to pass a ‘fit and proper person’ test, similar to that applied to landlords, and certain agency staff will have to undergo training. It is an offence for unregistered letting agents to operate in Scotland.  
  • 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.
  • 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. In Scotland, contact your local authority to enquire about rent deposit schemes operating in your area.  Crisis also provide a directory of some schemes although they can 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: In Scotland, a HMO is a dwelling where a landlord lets a house to three or more occupants and they come from more than two families. 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.
  • 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.

Community safety officers can help in solving neighbour disputes or other safety issues.

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 see ‘preventing homelessness’ through advice and finding accommodation as a means to avoid giving homelessness assistance.  Some services include private sector development and enforcement work. 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 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 housing benefit. 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 which apply in England, 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 the rent the local housing allowance (LHA). The LHA is the maximum market rent paid for a property that is the right size for the claimant’s household that falls within the cheapest 30% available. The LHA is subject to national limits that mean in some parts of the UK there will only be a small number of properties with a rent that is fully covered by UC/HB.

All claims for housing benefit 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. In Scotland, if a person makes an application to the local authority as homeless, the local authority has a duty to investigate (s.28, Housing (Scotland) Act 1987). They also have a duty to assess the support needs of any household that is unintentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Local housing authorities may use private rented accommodation when performing their duty to accommodate applicants who are homeless in two ways:

First, if the applicant is believed to be homeless the local authority has a duty to provide temporary accommodation to an applicant whilst investigating its section 28 duties. The temporary accommodation is usually owned by the local authority or a housing association, but may also be provided by a private landlord or a voluntary organisation. The accommodation must be ‘suitable’ – see The Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2004 (pdf). When the local authority decides it has a duty to provide permanent accommodation, the duty to provide temporary accommodation remains until permanent accommodation has been secured.

Second, permanent accommodation may be offered in the private rented sector if it is a Private Residential Tenancy. Before December 2017, an assured tenancy could be offered (a more limited short assured tenancy could also be offered to applicants if they agreed to this). Specific criteria had to be met if this type of non-permanent accommodation was offered (regulation 5 of the Homeless Persons (Provision of Non-permanent Accommodation) (Scotland) Regulations 2010) (pdf).

In all cases, private rented accommodation offered to homeless applicants must not be overcrowded, must be affordable, and must comply with the Repairing Standard.

Private landlords and 'right to rent' checks 

Private landlords in England are required to check the immigration status of tenants and other occupants. The Home Office has indicated that the scheme will eventually be rolled out to the rest of the UK, including Scotland. Details for the scheme in Scotland will be available on this page once any decision is made to proceed. In the meantime, advisers who want to know more about the ‘right to rent’ in England can look at the details on the pages for England and Wales.

Background Topics

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

A Housing Practitioners' Guide to Integrating Asylum Seekers & Refugees

A Housing Practitioners Guide to Integrating Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Published by the Scottish Refugee Council with support from CIH Scotland

Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland