Published: 17 Nov 2021  |  Category: Housing  |  Stage: We have welcomed a family

Addressing housing complaints

A guide to help your group manage refugees’ expectations and communicate your role regarding accommodation

As a Community Sponsorship group, you will have gone to great lengths to source suitable housing for a refugee family. You will have invited your Local Authority to view the accommodation for suitability, you may be paying housing rent top-up and you may even have renovated or purchased a property. The refugees you support will not know the effort you have put in to sourcing their housing and may have some complaints. Housing in the UK may be smaller than they expected or they may have heard rumours of another family receiving a house with a bigger garden or larger bedrooms etc. This resource seeks to outline some of the queries that might be raised by the family you are supporting, and how other groups have responded to similar issues.

Managing expectations

In the cultural orientation training families receive prior to coming to the UK, they will have covered how housing in the UK can vary. The family will also have received the ‘Welcome to the UK’ booklet which you can access on our website. The family will have a lot of information to take in, and they may not have retained all of this knowledge.  

It is also extremely likely that the family you have welcomed will already have been in contact with other resettled families in the UK, usually via Facebook or WhatsApp groups. It is inevitable for expectations to be raised when messages are passed on in this way, and comparisons will be made. Housing in the UK is hugely varied and making comparisons between a flat in one area and a house in another is always going to present a challenge.  

Make sure you explain over several occasions how housing is provided in the UK, that housing benefit will be paid either to the family to pay their rent or direct to a landlord. Make it clear that as a Community Sponsorship group, you are only obligated to source housing for 24 months, but that you plan to work with the family to assist them to find accommodation after that time should the property they live in may not be available after the first 24 months or if they do not wish to stay.  

What complaints/queries come up?

Many Community Sponsorship groups, as well as those working on other resettlement programmes, often share that after the initial excitement of their arrival into the UK, the family you welcome may express concern or frustration with the property they are living in, and this is usually due to the high expectations they have for life in the UK. It is common to hear low level complaints regarding: 

  • Size of the property.
  • Comparison with others (e.g. xxx has a larger garden/more rooms).
  • Location of the property – particularly for walking proximity to schools, shops and areas of interest.
  • Dissatisfaction with facilities available or perceived lack of facilities in the property.
  • Availability or style of furnishings within the property.

Property maintenance

There may be frustrations that come up in relation to the property that are entirely solvable, such as a leak in the property, broken windows etc. These are issues that could arise for any tenant in any property. Where this is the case, as a group you could assist the family to liaise with their landlord on outlining how and when repairs will be made. In this case, try to avoid taking on the responsibility for liaising with the landlord directly on problems, as it will be more useful for the family to take control of these day to day matters, although the family will of course need help to do this as they settle in.

Challenge RaisedHow groups have responded
Size of propertyExplain that accommodation in the UK is smaller than they may be used to, and everyone is in a very similar situation. Local Authorities have guidance for how many people can live in certain size properties, and sharing a room is common for children in a family.

The property is considered suitable for the family by the Home Office, Local Authority and local Police team.

Using online property sites to show another property in the immediate area that is available in the same price range and comparing room sizes. Looking to see whether there is a way to make better use of space in the property. If group members are happy with this, and it does not cross the boundaries of a group, organising a visit to a group member’s smaller property.
Comparison with others

Using online property sites to show another property in the immediate area that is available in the same price range and comparing room sizes in the location of where the other property is.

Explaining how you found that particular property, and that others will have used other routes. Outlining the benefits of this property in its location.
Location of the property

If the location has been raised as a concern in terms of distance from schools etc, explaining that it’s very common in the UK to have to walk a short distance to schools/shops in some areas. 

Outlining how the use of public transport can assist travelling distances (be ready to explain the cost comparison between public transport and taxi fares). Outlining the difference in cost of properties closer to shops/schools from the property that they are living in.
Dissatisfaction with facilities available

It may be that the family were hoping to have certain facilities in their accommodation, for example, a garden. Groups have explained that there are limitations of property in the UK that cannot be changed. Instead, they focus on what is available locally, such as indoor or outdoor play parks, and they help the family to access these.

Work with the family to understand the nature of their concern and work through with them what is possible. 
Availability of furnishings

Discuss with the family what they would like to have in the property. These may be items that your group may be able to fund or you can help the family to budget for.

Help the family to understand their tenancy agreement and to make requests to their landlord for specific furnishings – but do be clear that the landlord’s decision will be final.

Help the family to find solutions, e.g. if they would like to have fitted carpets, but the landlord says ‘no’, help the family to budget or purchase rugs for the property.

Things to keep in mind 

  • The property you have sourced has been considered suitable by the Home Office, Local Authority and Local Police Board.
  • The family will not know how hard you have worked to find the property.
  • Use the ‘Welcome to the UK’ booklet as a guide and reminder for what the family have already been told. 
  • Be ready for the family to tell you what other resettled families have received in terms of property.
  • You must be ready to reiterate the responsibility of the family to adhere to tenancy agreements and payment of rents.
  • If you are paying housing top-up payments, make this clear to the family at regular intervals.
  • Prepare the family for what will happen after two years. Groups in areas where accommodation is simply not going to be sustainable after two years have shared that they have helped the family to visit other areas of the UK and to build up a plan where they are able to move on after the original tenancy.

Can the family move if they want to? 

If the family wanted to move, and if their tenancy agreement allowed this and if they were able to source alternative affordable housing, then they could do so. However, they would not necessarily receive the level of support that they receive from your group and might need to register at new schools, GPs, Job Centre and ESOL classes in another location. They may need to find the funds for a deposit in their new property. If the family you support want to move, do make sure you raise this with your Home Office Contact Officer.

If the family raises the possibility of relocation, as a group it is important that you do not see their relocation as a failure on your part. Your role is to help refugees towards integration and independence, and their choice to leave is part of their path to independence.

From the experience in Community Sponsorship to date, it is very unlikely that the family you support would choose to move from the property within the first two years, as most concerns around property can be and are resolved. If the family you support remain unhappy with their accommodation, you can assist by helping them in setting goals to move toward finding accommodation that they will be happy with.

You can find further guidance on how to support families that are considering moving to a different area in the UK in our moving house article.

Need further help? 

Please contact the Reset Team at any point. We’re always happy to provide advice and support to your group.