On 25th March the Prime Minister laid out a number of changes to Social Housing and to tackling ‘rogue’ Private Landlords. The measures are to be introduced in advance of the next influx from Eastern Europe as Romania and Bulgaria are amalgamated into the European Union and will look to stave off substantial new drains on the tightening welfare budget. With estimates of inbound immigrants set at up to 250,000 entering the UK in the next five years, the Government seemingly feels they need to act now – or risk losing yet more voters to parties offering a tougher stance.
We break the changes down into the two main sections: Social Housing and Rogue Landlords.
Ministers want to tackle the widespread perception that the way social housing is allocated is unfair and favours foreign migrants over local people and the armed forces.
One in 5 of all existing social housing tenants in London are now foreign nationals, and across England, almost 1 in 10 of all new social housing tenancies are given to foreign nationals.
New rules will ensure that councils give priority to local people when allocating their social housing. Ministers will introduce new statutory guidance for councils, requiring them to amend their allocation policies to ensure only those with a well-established local residency and local connections will go on the waiting lists and qualify for a taxpayer-funded social home.
Councils will be required to make exceptions to support members of the armed forces who apply for housing, who may not have established local residency due to the nature of their work.
Strengthening the rules ahead of the next wave of immigrants
Migrants from the European Economic Area are eligible for social housing if they are working, self-sufficient or have permanent residence in the UK – after 5 years. Other foreign nationals are not eligible unless they have been granted humanitarian protections or have obtained settled status.
The guidance, to be published for consultation shortly, will ensure councils require people to have lived in the area for at least 2 years. Only those who passed this test would be accepted onto the waiting list in the local area – and then would be considered for social housing. It will also encourage them to set other local rules for testing a resident’s connection to the area. This could include having attended a local school and having family in the area.
The guidance will reinforce powers given to councils through the 2011 Localism Act, which gives them greater freedoms to manage their own waiting lists and to decide who should qualify for social homes in their area.
At the same time, minsters want to ensure tenants in private rented housing, which will include many of the new immigrants under the changes mentioned above, are not living in the UK illegally. The government is already working with councils to tackle rogue landlords who exploit immigrants by housing them in ‘beds in sheds’ – see our article on what is being done here.
Many private landlords already make checks on tenants’ identity and credit status, making it difficult for illegal migrants to rent properties from them. But not all landlords do that, and a small minority of rogue landlords knowingly target illegal migrants who are not in a position to complain about sub-standard accommodation.
In future, private landlords would be required to make simple checks on new tenants to make sure that they are entitled to be in this country. The government will ensure that UK nationals are not adversely affected and avoid red tape on honest landlords in the private rented sector.
The Department for Communities and Local Government will consult on the proposals, which will be straightforward, quick and inexpensive for law-abiding landlords and tenants to comply with. Action could be targeted at particular high-risk sectors, such as houses in multiple-occupation.
Mr Pickles said landlords could play an important role in making it harder for illegal migrants to live here, and would receive support from public bodies such as the UK Borders Agency to make the necessary checks. The new checks would complement the government’s ongoing work on ‘beds in sheds’.