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EEA migrants: access to social housing (England)

Published Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Part 1 of this House of Commons Library briefing paper gives a broad overview of the law governing the rights of European Economic Area (EEA) migrants to access social housing in England. Part 2 considers whether there is any evidence to suggest that EEA migrants are able to “jump the queue” to access social housing more quickly than other applicants.

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EEA migrants' access to social housing in England

Social (council) housing in the UK is a public resource. Therefore, as with entitlement to social security benefits, EEA nationals’ access to social housing is based on the principle of free movement and the entitlement of EEA nationals to enjoy equal treatment with UK nationals in accessing social advantages. In summary, EEA nationals may be eligible to apply for social housing if they have a relevant right to reside, for example, if they are working, self-sufficient, or have a permanent right of residence in the UK (after five years lawful residence in the UK).

No automatic entitlement to housing for anyone in England

However, there is no automatic entitlement to social housing for anyone in England, including British citizens. Even those people from abroad who may be eligible for housing assistance still have to qualify for assistance in line with an authority’s housing allocation scheme, or meet the criteria under which a statutory duty arises to assist homeless households (Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended)).

Evidence of 'jumping the queue' for housing?

Official statistics on social housing lettings in England show that between April 2014 and March 2015 the vast majority of lettings (91%) were made to UK nationals. Research into migrants’ access to social housing has found that there is a much higher likelihood of non-UK nationals living in the private rented sector.

In September 2015 the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford published the most recent update of its briefing paper, Migrants and Housing in the UK: Experiences and Impacts. The key points from this research included:

  • The foreign-born population has significantly lower ownership rates (43% were home owners in the first quarter of 2015) than the UK-born (68%).)
  • The foreign-born population is almost three times as likely to be in the private rental sector (39% were in this sector in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the UK-born (14%).
  • UK-born and foreign-born individuals living in London tend to have lower home ownership rates, and a higher likelihood of being in the rental and social housing sector relative to the rest of the UK.
  • Recent migrants (i.e. those who have been in the UK for five years or less) are almost twice as likely to be renters (74% were in the private rental sector in the first quarter of 2015), compared to all migrants. Those migrants who have been in the UK longer tend to have accommodation similar to that of the UK-born.
  • UK-born and foreign-born individuals have similar levels of participation in social housing (about 17% of UK-born individuals and 18% of foreign-born individuals were in social housing during the first quarter of 2015).

Government action to limit access

The 2010 Coalition Government published additional statutory guidance for local authorities in December 2013, Providing social housing for local people,  the purpose of which is “to assist housing authorities to make full use of the flexibilities within the allocation legislation to better meet the needs of their local residents and their local communities.” Under this guidance local authorities are expected to limit access to their housing stock to those who have lived in the local area for two years.

The White Paper published in February 2016, sets out the settlement negotiated by the Prime Minister. On the subject of access to social housing, the White Paper states that the statutory guidance will be amended to extend the residence requirement to four years.

Dealing with constituents' cases

The rules on eligibility for housing assistance in relation to persons from abroad are extremely complex. Constituents seeking specific advice on their eligibility for housing assistance should seek professional legal help. Guidance can be found in chapter 9 and annexes 11-13 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities (last updated in July 2006) and in annexes 2-4 of Allocation of accommodation: Guidance for local housing authorities in England (2012). The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and BMENational run a Housing Rights website specifically aimed at answering housing eligibility queries in regard to new migrants.

Scotland and Wales

Information on housing eligibility in Scotland can be found on the Housing Rights website at Housing Rights in Scotland.  There were some differences in eligibility between Wales and England until new Regulations came into force in Wales on 31 October 2014. These Regulations essentially brought Wales back into line with England.

Commons Briefing papers SN04737

Author: Wendy Wilson

Topics: EU enlargement, EU law and treaties, Homelessness, Housing, Immigration, Social rented housing

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