The Brexit business risk for UK landlords
Of the three million people from the EU believed to be living in the UK, nearly two thirds are tenants and about 15 per cent rent their home from a social landlord. We don’t know how many EU nationals work for social landlords, but it must be in the tens of thousands. As CIH policy and practice officer Sam Lister explains, these are all factors that landlords need to take into account in their business planning.
What rights do EU nationals have concerning their housing or employment since the UK left the EU on 31 January? For example, can they apply for social housing, receive assistance if they are homeless, claim housing benefits or even continue as tenants and/or employees? Superficially at least, on 1 February everything continues exactly as before – in fact and in law. The government’s message is that those who have made their home here have nothing to fear.
There is a danger that EU nationals mistakenly believe that their long residence provides protection. It does until 31 December, but after that they may lose the right to rent a property or their eligibility for social housing and benefits more generally. And when the EU Settlement Scheme closes on 30 June 2021, anyone who hasn’t applied is an ‘overstayer’ (in the UK without ‘leave’) and is potentially ensnared in the ‘hostile environment.’ For these individuals the EU ‘right of permanent residence’ previously acquired through five years’ work or being born and schooled here are no guarantee of safety. And following the Windrush scandal recent statements intended to reassure EU nationals that the Home Office will treat them with compassion and sensitivity may ring rather hollow, bearing in mind that the scandal’s victims were British citizens. And if celebrity chefs can fall foul of the rules, how much harder will it be for ordinary people, especially those who will struggle to make online applications or find the necessary documentation?
The importance of making sure your tenants and employees are aware of the risks of failing to apply for settlement before the scheme closes cannot be overstated. Of course, this needs to be done sensitively, and landlords shouldn’t be giving immigration advice. But you can tell them how to find a registered adviser (free or fee-charging). A number of landlords, such as Monmouthshire Housing, have already identified and written to their affected tenants. Queens Cross HA organised an expert advice session for EU tenants.
Up-to-date advice about rights to housing and benefits for migrants and housing professionals is available on the CIH housing rights website, which includes a dedicated Brexit news page. Examples of how social landlords help migrant tenants are given in its quarterly newsletters. But whatever approach you decide to take, every social landlord should have identified it as a business risk and have a strategy for mitigating it in their plans over the next 18 months.