Moving London: Migrants in the Private Rented Sector

In contrast to the general public perception and the picture that politicians and the media often create most refugees do not live in social housing once they have been granted asylum. Over 75 percent of new migrants are housed in the private rented sector (PRS).

One of the main reasons why most migrants rely on the PRS for accommodation is that they often have restricted access to social housing, as the access to housing and benefits for migrants has become in general increasingly difficult and limited since the mid-1990s. Other reasons are low awareness of their rights and responsibilities as tenants as well as the flexibility of the private sector. Although refugees are legally entitled to social housing after they receive their status, they often enter the PRS because of shortage and/or the need to find something quickly once they get their status.

The critical issues that migrants deal with are often very different depending on their status. Individuals who are awaiting an asylum decision or refugees who have had their status confirmed may view issues such as poor-conditions or hope for transitions to more secure accommodations. Others as migrant workers for example have to face problems such as low standards, overcrowded properties or houses in multiple occupations or less critical factors as choices they make about work, income and expenditure on the rent. This at least shows the diversity of uses of private sector which vary from place to place as well as the context of wider policies.

[h4]Difficulties in accessing the PRS[/h4]

As mentioned there are various reasons that lead migrants into the PRS even though social properties or the owner-occupied sectors may provide better or more secure accommodation. The main difficulties in accessing the private sector are:

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  • Lack of a deposit and/or other references – some migrants need to apply for loans to buy and/or for lettings
  • Lack of knowledge of government schemes – many do not know about local letting schemes, housing options services or the simple rights as tenants
  • Language barriers

  • Lack of familiarity to London housing market

[h4]Limited choice of accommodation[/h4]

Apart of the formal difficulties migrants often have limited choices. They enter the market through less desirable accommodations in disadvantaged areas or where demand for housing is lowest. Migrants are largely dependent on local contacts, friends, their communities or sometimes on their employers to find accommodations.

[h4]Frequent moves or complex housing[/h4]

Complex housing situations are a characteristic for migrants’ use of the PRS. According to the three main accommodation schemes, the PRS is the one in which turnover and frequent moves are highest. For example, compared with other residents, refugees were more than twice as likely to be frequent movers. Nearly a quarter had made three or more moves in five years. Another research shows that, refugees averaged four to six moves for each household before they found sufficiently settled accommodation, which often involved a final move into social housing. Reasons for frequent moves can be that lettings are often informal or without any legal agreement or that migrant workers may have to change their jobs several times, which causes problems with rent that they owe.

Other research shows that frequent movers suffer a number of disadvantages, such as having poorer access to services such as doctors and school and feeling isolated.

[h4]Multi-occupancy properties[/h4]

Another issue mainly migrant workers’ use of PRS have to face is multi-occupancy. Depending on the local economy, landlords find it profitable to buy larger properties and convert them into houses with multiple occupancy. Beside the fact that these properties are badly managed and in a bad condition, some migrants are sharing both their rooms and their beds. This concentration can lead moreover to neighbourhood tensions and poor relations between migrants and settled residents.


As migrants represent an increasing part of the private sector, they gain significant influence and sway in the sector. Given the barriers to access social housing and home-ownership, it seems likely that the PRS will continue to be the main provider for recent migrants. Opportunities for moves into home-ownership or social renting will continue to be available to those who have been in the UK for a longer period, especially because of the overall pressures of housing supply and demand. It is important to concentrate on the potential for better outcome for recent migrants as well as for certain neighbourhoods. Therefore it could be useful to involve migrant communities and other relevant voluntary and community groups or individuals as mediators into housing.

This is the first in our blog series – Moving London: How living in London is changing. We will be exploring various aspects of how migrants and migration effect the housing sector in London. Watch this space for our next posts in this series.

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