Think through which responsibilities and roles your group will take on with the family’s accommodation
This resource aims to help your Community Sponsorship group think through some key issues relating to housing for when you will welcome a refugee family into the UK. It may be that you choose to apply for approval in principle from the Home Office without accommodation, however, it’s important to discuss your housing strategy as a group at an early stage.
As a Community Sponsorship group, you will have the obligation to support and help a newly resettled family to access accommodation for a two-year period from the date of their arrival in the UK. You must have the keys and access to the property a fortnight before the family arrives and the Home Office will reimburse incurred void property costs for a maximum of 8 weeks prior to the arrival of the family for 1-3 bedroom properties, and 12 weeks for 4 bedroom properties – this is capped at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates for your area.
You’ll find information and ideas on how you can find property on our website, as well as advice on how to take an empowerment approach to housing, the role of Landlords and providing tenancy agreements.
There’s a number of questions to work through with your Group as you approach finding accommodation:
Will we pay housing top up payments?
All adult refugees resettled in the UK will be able to access benefits from the day of their arrival in the UK. Part of their benefits will be for their rent (what was referred to as Housing Benefit previously) which is set at the LHA rate. If you know the family’s post code, you can calculate the LHA rate on the government’s website.
In some areas of the UK, finding accommodation within the LHA rate is just not possible, and as such, Community Sponsorship groups have decided to pay a housing top-up to meet the difference between the LHA rate provided to the family through benefit payments and the full rental amount. If you find yourself in this position, there are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are we comfortable paying a housing top up payment?
- What is a reasonable amount of top up to pay?
- Is this a sustainable amount that the family will be able to afford should they come off benefits and access employment?
- Who will we pay the top up payment to? The family or directly to the landlord?
- How and when will we explain this housing top up payment to the family?
- What will happen after two years if the family cannot make the rent without the top up payment?
- Are the Local Authority going to be comfortable with the level of housing top up we intend to pay (remember that should something go wrong with your sponsorship, they may have to step in. They may not be able to top-up rent to the same amount as you, and the family may be moved to alternative accommodation). Make sure you discuss your plans with your Local Authority/Authorities before you agree any property selection.
What if the family will not be able to afford to live permanently in the area?
There are groups who have welcomed families to very expensive areas of the UK, where it will not be possible or realistic for the family to live in that area in the future. This can be hard to explain and can feel like you are setting up an unrealistic expectation of life in the UK. However, if you think of the initial two years of housing as being a stepping-stone to longer term resettlement, this can help the family to adjust to this idea. It is imperative however that this is explained to the family at the outset as it should not be a shock to them to have to think about moving on after the two years. Some groups in this position have assisted the family to visit other areas of the UK during the sponsor agreement period where accommodation is at a price they can afford long term, and building their informal ESOL opportunities around starting afresh elsewhere and helping family members to understand the statutory services available to them in the UK so that they will be able to access these when needed.
Questions to discuss as a group:
- How will we explain the housing situation to the family?
- How can we assist the family to move to another area after 24 months?
- Who will be responsible for ensuring the family is aware that the housing is only available for 24 months? (we advise regularly repeating the arrangements).
Negotiating/setting monthly rent
It may be that when you find your accommodation, you have negotiated a reduced price in line with LHA rates with a philanthropic landlord for a fixed term, or you may be in the position of having a landlord, investor or group of investors in a property who are happy to set the rental cost to the benefits received by the family. We have heard of some property owners very kindly offering to not charge a rental fee for properties, but we would strongly recommend that this is not taken up. The family will be in receipt of housing benefit payments and it’s essential they learn how to budget in this way. Moreover, should the family choose to move out of the area and into another property, it shouldn’t be a surprise to them that they are expected to pay rent.
If the rental cost has been secured for a specific time period at a below market rate amount, make sure you and the family are aware when this will expire, how much any increase is likely to be and when the family will need to make a decision about staying on in the property.
Families arriving through Community Sponsorship are very unlikely to arrive with any form of funds to help them in their lives in the UK. It is therefore likely that your group will need to cover the costs for the deposit on rental accommodation. Ensure that the landlord/agent knows that at the end of the rental period this money should be returned to your group.
Make sure you schedule in time to explain the UK deposit scheme to the family you are welcoming, including how deductions to this could be made. This will assist you in adopting an empowerment approach to housing; should they decide to move at any stage, they are likely to need to set this up themselves. Explore other ways in which a deposit may be covered; the charity Shelter have a guide to what is available in the UK, including information on Discretionary Housing Payments via your Local Authority.
Should our group act as guarantor?
Some private landlords may ask for someone to act as guarantor to the family renting the property and this is something that you will need to discuss as a group. Advice from Shelter can help you understand what this means and what your responsibilities will be. It could mean that should the family you support fail to pay rent, or cause damage to the property, you will be held financially responsible. This is a risk to you or your group, and having a strong guarantor agreement in place will be essential. Make sure you discuss any liabilities this will place on your group and how they will be met with the relevant stakeholders involved in your Community Sponsorship project, including your Lead Sponsor where applicable. Avoid naming an individual in your group as guarantor, as they would be held accountable should things go wrong, instead, have the organisation as the guarantor.
Do we sublet a tenancy to the family?
Some Landlords may look to have your group take out a tenancy agreement with permission in place to sub-let to the family on arrival. This means that you would act as the intermediate landlord to the family. There’s a lot to consider when sub-letting a property, and Citizens Advice have a wealth of information available. We have heard from groups in this situation that having an independent member of your group, who has little to do with the family on a day to day basis can be helpful in this way. Should you then need to carry out a property check, or discuss any difficult issues relating to the tenancy, you do not have a conflict of interest in doing so.
Questions to consider:
- How will sub-letting the property to the family affect your relationship with them?
- How will the relationship with the landlord work when reporting concerns or issues?
- Should the family not pay rent, who will be liable for the payment of this to the landlord?
- What other risks would this place on the group or Lead Sponsor, and are you all comfortable with them?
Taking temporary possession of a property
Your group will need to be able to access a property prior to the arrival date of the family, and before they are able to sign their tenancy agreement. As such, you may need to have a written agreement in place between you and the landlord to do this, where it is outlined when and who will pay the rent, when the tenancy will be moved into the family’s name, and outlining what your duties are as the named tenants.
Things to think about:
- For how long will the tenancy, license or agreement be in the name of your group?
- How will this be handed over to the family, and what are your obligations to the landlord be when this is no longer in the name of the group?
- Are there any conditions you need to have placed in this agreement? This might include having access to the property but not occupying it (make sure you speak to your Local Authority regarding council tax obligations during this period).
There are many other questions relating to housing that may come up as you search for a property. Reset are always able to provide advice and support to your group and we have further resources for you to use.