Exploring the needs and experiences of new migrants living in the private rented sector.
New migrants are largely housed in private lettings and form an important subsector of the market, yet the issues that arise are little examined. This report for the Housing and Migration Network aims to fill this gap.
The research - Written by John Perry
This is a summary of the findings from a policy and practice report commissioned by the Housing and Migration Network (see page 4) to pull together knowledge and to advance the case for greater consideration of migrants' use of private renting. While it focuses on the poorer ‘bottom end’ of the sector, it acknowledges that the sector mainly provides good conditions for tenants and is run by good landlords. Many of the proposals are about bringing the minority up to the standards of the majority.
The report aims to provide robust analysis of migrants' use of the private rented sector and the problems they face; to outline the current policy constraints and opportunities; to make proposals about improving conditions for migrants as one of many vulnerable groups within the sector; and to recommend to national and local agencies how these might be taken forward.
Although migrants who have lived in the UK for a long time have similar housing tenure patterns to those of the settled population, recent migrants (those who have been here for up to five years) overwhelmingly use the private rented sector: some 75 per cent are in private lets, and even this may under-represent the true picture. There are also 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.
Where migrants and other tenants live in poor-quality, badly managed lettings, this almost inevitably has repercussions for the neighbourhood as a whole. This paper is therefore not only about migrants' housing conditions but also about issues affecting the well-being of the neighbourhoods where they live.
Migrants represent one part of the private rental market, often concentrated in poorer-quality and cheaper dwellings. It is precisely this part of the sector that is now under extraordinary pressure from many different directions. Greater demands are being placed on it by changes in government policy, such as encouraging councils to discharge their homelessness duties through private lettings. Changes in the local housing allowance system are making it harder for tenants to afford rents and many may start to look for cheaper accommodation. At the same time, the much greater barriers to home-ownership that have applied since 2008 mean more households using private lettings. In many areas, rents are increasing rapidly in response, in spite of the rapid recent growth of the sector.
Migrants need access to the sector in part because the other main sectors (home-ownership and social housing) are not readily available to them, and in part because of its flexibility and relative affordability. Newly arrived migrants often access accommodation through friends, or through employers and agents who find them work, avoiding conventional channels like local authorities, mainstream advice agencies or high street letting agencies. While this evidently works, it means that lettings are often informal, possibly without legal agreements, and sometimes involve unconventional arrangements such as putting people in outbuildings or obliging them to share with strangers. If tenants have complaints, they may be too intimidated to pursue them (e.g. if they face losing their job), and unaware of their rights or of agencies that could help them.
Other migrants make different use of the sector but may also face problems. For example, migrant workers who decide to bring families to the UK, or asylum seekers who receive approved status as refugees, may be looking for more secure, longer-term accommodation. They may be eligible for social housing but are unaware of this or cannot wait until they receive an allocation. Evidence shows they often move through a succession of private tenancies, looking for better conditions and greater security, combined with affordability, until they eventually find more secure accommodation or can access social housing. The end of government-funded integration support for refugees (including access to loans for rent deposits) may exacerbate this problem from March 2012.
Where migrants' use of the sector is concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, they may compete with other low-income groups, properties may be converted for the migrant market and (for example) be unavailable to first-time buyers, or multi-occupation may spring up in areas unaccustomed to it. These and the environmental problems associated with heavy use of multi-occupied properties can lead to neighbourhood tensions and poor relations between migrants and settled residents.
It is clear that despite greater competition for accommodation the private rented sector will continue to be the main provider of housing for new migrants for the foreseeable future: neither home-ownership nor social housing are going to offer significantly greater opportunities, and in all probability fewer. While demand for accommodation from migrants will fluctuate, as migration fluctuates, it will not disappear; the migrant sub-sector will continue to be an important part of the market.
The authors have therefore concentrated on ways of achieving better outcomes for recent migrants within the private rented sector.
Any proposals have to acknowledge both the constraints and the opportunities resulting from current policies affecting migrants and affecting private renting. In particular, severe public expenditure constraints are reducing or in some cases ending the relevant local authority services and those provided by the voluntary sector. While some funding opportunities remain, any proposals must be realistic, and rely only on established sources of funding or be low-cost or self-financing. This limits the opportunities but by no means eliminates them.
As well as working within the various constraints, the Housing and Migration Network is keen to promote ideas that 'work with the grain' of the sector, involve voluntary and community organisations and migrant groups themselves wherever possible, and which are aimed at addressing the issues that arise at local level.
The following proposals are more fully explained in the full report:
The case is made to take forward these and similar initiatives as part of a wider response to the growth of – and pressures on – the private rented sector, and the actions the Government, local authorities, social landlords and private landlords could take. This will require steps to:
The Housing and Migration Network was jointly established by HACT – the housing action charity – and its funders, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Migration Foundation of Metropolitan Housing Partnership. It aims to:
The Network has been driven by a diverse group of 20 policy influencers and practitioners from the public, private and voluntary sectors. Over the last two years the group has been exploring practical solutions to the reality of continuing migration, which places pressures on housing and neighbourhood cohesion.
This is a summary of one of three reports being produced by the Network. 'UK migration: the leadership role of housing providers' was published in August 2011 . 'Housing and migration: A UK practice guide will be published by the Chartered Institute of Housing' in April 2012.