For almost a quarter of a century there has been a steady growth in legal measures that restrict migrants’ access to housing. This has accelerated considerably in the past seven years. A raft of legislative and policy changes since 2010 designed to discriminate against migrants and refugees who have difficulty proving their right to be in this country has made an already complex situation even harder to navigate.
The onus is now on landlords to check immigration status, welfare benefits and other public services are being denied to migrants, while Home Office guidance states that those found sleeping rough would be deemed to be in the UK unlawful and subject to removal.
The way these rules are sometimes applied, coupled with the sceptical, anti-immigrant attitude they engender, can lead to disastrous consequences for migrants with legitimate cases.
Many migrants with rights to remain, including long-term residents and British citizens, are getting caught up in this. Those who lose documents are refused services and become homeless, while others are assumed to be ineligible for housing simply because they are migrants. Our internal research suggests that charities helping homeless migrants find that almost a third of people they see have the right to remain and half have an arguable case to do so. Legitimate migrants find it difficult to challenge unfair decisions against them partly because of the removal of regulatory, advocacy and advice services and support for migrant organisations.
Understanding how housing associations can help steer this community through the dense forest of anti-migrant law is important. We need to obtain proper advice before making a decision; take a victim-centred approach rather than starting every case with scepticism; train staff in immigration and housing law; work in partnership with migrant and refugee organisations; ensure that tenants know what they and housing associations can do.
When there is such hostility towards migrants, the penalties of getting it wrong can be severe. That is why we have put together a pledge and are asking housing associations to sign it, agreeing simple commitments, to provide services that are fair, compassionate and accessible to all. The pledge says to potential migrant and refugee customers that they will get fair, confidential treatment. To our staff it emphasises adherence to our company values, even when it appears easier to give tacit support to the government’s agenda. Finally, to the government it says that the policy of discrimination is not done “in our name”.
Social housing providers have a long and proud history of protecting the vulnerable and responding to their needs without fear or favour. The pledge – now signed by 18 housing associations across the country – is our way of underlining our core function at a time when our most vulnerable customers are under attack like never before.
This article can be found online at the Guardian Website