How to... tackle poor conditions for migrants in the private rented sector


John Perry discusses the issues that migrants face in the private rented sector. A new report from the Housing and Migration Network shares lessons on managing housing.

New arrivals in Britain are highly dependent on private lettings – whether bedsits, accommodation tied to their jobs or caravan sites. Recent migrants are three times more likely than the average person to be living in the private rented sector (PRS). Many endure poor conditions, irregular tenancies, overcrowding and even "hot bedding", where tenants use the same bed and sleep in shifts. The difficulty in helping them is that they often find accommodation informally or through employers, don't use official advice centres and may find it difficult to report high rents or poor conditions.

A growing number of councils and housing associations are trying to improve migrants' living conditions. Successful schemes recognise the need to work with migrants and be sensitive to a range of issues, from language barriers and a suspicion of authority to the fear that if they are seen to complain they may lose both their home and their job.

Tackling these problems means investing time in liaising with tenants, employing staff who speak the relevant languages and, where possible, working in partnership with migrant community organisations.

In Hastings, East Sussex, migrants live in bedsits. Local councils used a Migration Impact Fund (MIF) to employ a liaison worker who met migrant groups, learned about their needs and produced a best practice toolkit for use by environmental health officers. They went on to produce an English language resource for migrants that had the double purpose of helping them understand their housing rights.

In Cornwall, councils started to see a growing problem of migrant workers being housed in poor-quality caravan sites and bedsits. They formed a group called MIGWAG, which brings councils together with agencies such as the police, fire service and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. These join forces to tackle poor conditions and even close down caravan sites, but also work with farmers and growers to encourage them to provide better conditions for staff and observe health and safety rules.

A sudden growth in conversions of properties to bedsits, in response to demand from migrant workers, has affected many places in eastern England. In Goole, between 3,000 and 5,000 migrant workers have settled and there has been an increase in two-storey houses being converted to homes of multiple occupation outside the council's standard licensing scheme.

Not all were well run, meaning that the tenants were at risk and there was a growing problem of neighbourhood nuisance. Goole applied for permission to have an additional licensing scheme. The impact fund paid for a consultant to gather evidence of why it was needed and the scheme began in January 2011.

Finally, a group of housing associations and councils are working with HACT's Accommodate PRS project to establish private rented access or leasing schemes in four different areas of the country – Bolton, Haringey, Sandwell and Redbridge. One of these is a leasing scheme led by Bolton at Home, working with Bolton council and the North West Strategic Migration Partnership. It aims to become self-financing and includes a refugee-specific element, with a target of 150 refugee households over two years. It is looking to expand to work with partners in other areas such as Rochdale, Salford and Wigan.

In each case, it will lease private-sector properties, providing a guaranteed income for the landlord and good management standards for tenants.

There are more ideas and examples in a new report from the Housing and Migration Network. The next publication, in April, will be a general practical guide to improving housing conditions for migrants, covering aspects such as gathering data about migrants, eligibility for and access to social housing and helping those who are destitute.

John Perry is policy adviser to the Chartered Institute of Housing and a member of the Housing and Migration Network

Read this article on the Guardian Housing Network Blog.