Housing Factsheet

The facts 
Asylum seekers may be housed by NASS, usually in areas of dispersal, or they can find their own accommodation, but will receive no financial support towards this, only their subsistence allowance.  Single adults or couples who achieve refugee status are moved to mainstream benefits.  If they are in NASS accommodation, they must leave within 28 days (the “move-on” period).  Families can remain in NASS accommodation until an alternative is found.

People with refugee status, HP or other leave to remain are entitled to claim housing benefit and can seek public or private accommodation:

Public housing
Public sector housing includes council accommodation and ‘social landlords’ such as Housing Associations.  For both these you should apply to the local authority housing office where you have been living.  If you have been housed by NASS in a dispersal area, public housing may be more easily available than in other areas, especially those of high demand, such as London and the South East of England.  Before you approach your local housing office, it is wise to find out your rights, as the office may not explain these to you.  A good source of information is Shelter (their website and telephone helpline are given below).  Unless you are homeless, you have no right to be housed quickly. The local authority does have an obligation to help to find housing for people who have become homeless in their area, and cannot afford commercial rents – initially temporary accommodation and eventually permanent accommodation.  However, waiting lists can be still long and temporary accommodation restricted. There are certain priority categories for which refugees might qualify - if they are vulnerable, or have been victims of torture, or have health problems, etc.  Many councils do not provide accommodation for single people, but may provide housing benefit once private accommodation is found.

Private accommodation
Most private landlords require a deposit and advance rent payments.  Since, as asylum seekers, they were barred from paid work, most refugees will not be able to afford this.  To help people in this situation find accommodation, Rent Deposit Schemes have been set up in many areas, either by local councils themselves or other agencies, often in collaboration with ‘social landlords’ or housing associations.  These will underwrite the deposit and even any delay in rental payments while housing benefit is being approved.  You can find a list of schemes available in London on this website.  Rent Deposit Schemes can only be accessed via the local authority housing office, and again resources may be scarce.  There is likely to be a priority system or a waiting list.

It is also possible to obtain a loan for rent in advance from the Benefits Agency (DSS) Social Fund section, but normally only in cases of health problems, being under 21, or other special circumstances.  This loan is repaid a few pounds each week from income support.

Potential issues and ways to work through them:

Homelessness: Contact “Shelter” (see Contacts) both for general advice on how to get housed and for information on emergency temporary accommodation available at that moment.  There may also be local advice centres, such as Homeless London (www.homelesslondon.org.uk) which give information on local agencies, hostels etc.

Filling in forms:  the housing department forms are long and sometimes unclear, mentees may find they need support in filling them in.

Poor quality accommodation: public housing, and also some private accommodation (e.g. hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation) can be of poor quality and common problems include overcrowding, damp and a lack of services.  Many refugees, including families, are housed in areas with high levels of deprivation and crime and they may also experience isolation and abuse.  As well as providing emotional support, mentors can signpost mentees to appropriate specialist agencies. See Contacts for some refugee support and advice services available, but you may also need to access.

Finding furniture:  councils often have a scheme for redistributing sound but unwanted furniture.  Contact your local council.

Accessing utilities: moving into new accommodation usually involves setting up utilities.  This requires an understanding of what services are available, how they work and how to contact the various suppliers.  The range of options available can be confusing and it is sometimes difficult to use automated services on the telephone if English is a second language.  Mentors can offer simple but valuable practical support if it is needed.

Useful Contacts

The Refugee Council provides an outline of housing issues on its website and can offer advice and information at their offices across the UK or by contacting the Information Line on 020 7820 3085.  www.refugeecouncil.org.uk

Shelter is the leading provider of independent housing advice in the country and the largest homelessness charity.  Clear and accessible information is available for anyone facing a housing problem online (www.shelternet.org.uk/) or through Shelterline (0808 800 4444) which is a free, 24-hour service.

Housing Action Charity Trust is a development agency that acts as a catalyst for change in the housing sector.  HACT’s Refugee Housing Integration Project aims to achieve more integrated neighbourhoods, with an increase in the amount and quality of housing available to refugees.

Citizens Advice Bureaux provides free, confidential and independent advice (www.citizensadvice.org.uk)

The Refugee Housing Association is one of the UK's leading providers of housing and support for refugees.  They accept referrals from a number of agencies (currently under review).  See their website for details.


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