We know that a significant part of your work in the application process to become a Community Sponsorship Group will focus on housing. As part of your sponsor agreement you will be agreeing to source suitable accommodation for a family for a two year period. The accommodation must:
- Have a minimum of a two year lease
- Have its own front door
- Meet the standards of your Local Authority
- Be affordable and sustainable, taking into account the benefits the family will receive
- Be furnished
Please note that the Home Office will not consider mobile homes as suitable accommodation for refugee families. Read more about the housing requirements you must meet here.
It is possible to put in your application to the Home Office without having accommodation in place, and this has been welcomed by groups who are trying to avoid void property costs whilst they await approval and arrival of the family they will support. You'll submit your application form without property details, and you'll still go through the process for approval but will be given an approval-in-principle subject to your fulfilling the housing requirements. Groups have told us that doing this gives them the momentum to increase their housing search and landlords and housing associations can respond to the ask with a clearer understanding of when property will be required.
Community Sponsorship Groups have shared with us what worked for them in finding property:
- Be Specific During your housing search ask for the properties you are looking for. With the introduction of the UKRS programme, there is a high demand for larger properties (4 bedroomed), housing which are accessible to those who are wheelchair users or have mobility needs
- Share your search with your networks Share your search for a rental house with your friends, your neighbours, colleagues, community and family. Make sure they are aware why you are looking for a property, what type of property you are likely to need, and how they can help.
- Distribute leaflets in your area Use Google Maps to divide your neighbourhood into sections and ask members of your group to distribute leaflets in specific streets. Ask your library and local shops if these leaflets can be displayed. A Group in London have distributed 7000 leaflets covering every street in their neighbourhood and found three suitable properties. They took one of the properties and gave the other two to other Community Sponsorship Groups.
- Use social media If your Group is making use of social media, ask local charities or local groups to share your posts to reach new audiences. Keep repeating your ask and share updates when a property is found. Do not forget to use and share your search through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Use the #CommunitySponsorship on social media so that others can help to spread the word.
- Make the most of local advertising Some landlords do not like advertising their properties online and prefer to rent their houses to someone from their neighbourhood. Check signs in gardens, advertisements in local newsagents, libraries, and community noticeboards.
- Check with online letting agencies If you want to leave no stone unturned, try websites where you can connect with an owner directly.
- Reach out to faith groups or community organisations in your area Ask your local places or worship, sports clubs, universities, and community centres to share your property hunt with their members.
- Estate and Letting Agents Your local letting and estate agents may be able to assist in your search. Pay a visit to them and explain what you are doing – some may be able to offer a good deal or advice, and may be able to connect you with landlords who would like to help refugees. One Group reached out to an estate agent, who circulated their ask and found a landlord who wanted to help.
- Residents’/Housing Associations Contact your Residents’ or Housing Associations. They may be able to provide you with advice on how to find a house for renting in your area. A number of Housing Associations have made a commitment to the Migrant's Pledge; to welcome migrants. They may not be able to assist in providing housing but it is worth connecting with them http://www.innisfree.org.uk/about-us/pledge/
- Investment - we have heard that some Groups are finding groups of investors who would like to contribute toward providing housing for a refugee family. If you are looking into purchasing property, ensure that you speak to the Safer Neighbourhoods Team in your local police force in order to confirm that the accommodation you purchase would be suitable for the purposes of resettling a family before you or a member of your community purchases a property.
As you find a property, ensure you carry out a police board consultation as soon as possible.
A note on housing costs
We know that finding housing that is within Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, which is what the refugees' benefits will cover, can be a huge challenge for Groups – particularly in heavily populated areas and where the benefit cap is applied. Not knowing the size of the family or any other details about their needs will present an added challenge, but don’t worry about trying to find a property that caters to every possible family because once your application is approved, the Home Office will match a family with your Group based on lots of factors, including the size of the property that you have found.
Wherever possible, it’s advisable for Groups to seek to find housing that is affordable and sustainable within your LHA rates. However, this is not always possible and some Groups ‘top-up’ rent payments through the fundraising that you will have carried out. It's really important if you are going to have to top up in this way that you consider the ongoing likelihood of the family affording the rent after 2 years once your support is completed; would it be realistic for them to earn enough to afford market rate. Your work as a Community Sponsorship Group is to empower families.
Groups have sometimes needed to turn down property due to its cost.
Impact of housing top-ups on benefits
Topping up housing payments in this way should not have an impact on the benefits the family receives, as this would fall under the heading of 'unearned income' for the family and falls under UC Regs 66 (1) where, because the income from a top up payment is not listed, it should not be taken into account during an assessment. If you are experiencing different advice to this from the JobCentre, please contact Reset.
For more information on preparing accommodation for a family, please visit planning for an arrival section of the training website.