“We are returning to Ukraine because we have not found an apartment to rent”
As of March 2023, 222,000 visas have been awarded to Ukrainians fleeing from the war. This Saturday marks the first anniversary since individuals were able to act as sponsors in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which accounts for 70% of all visas.
Over recent months, Generation Rent worked with the Ukrainian organisation Opora to investigate the experiences of Ukrainian refugees in navigating the UK’s housing sector.
Ukrainians overwhelmingly reported a host of obstacles preventing them from accessing good quality homes. And, those Ukrainian refugees who were able to find accommodation to rent faced various standards and repair issues.
Too many respondents were being presented with three options: become homeless, endure poor quality housing, or return to Ukraine. Clearly, things need to change.
We would like to thank the 325 Ukrainian refugees completed the survey, which ran between 21 November 2022 and 8 January 2023.
- 80% of all respondents were currently a private renter, had been a private renter previously, or were actively looking to become a private renter.
- 49%, nearly half, had struggled to provide a guarantor when looking for somewhere to rent
- 43% had struggled to find money for a deposit
- 46%, almost half of Ukrainians living in the private rented sector reported that they had experienced mould or damp
- Over half (52%) of those living in private rented accommodation, who reported a disrepair issue, said that their landlord had not fixed the problem
Guarantors, references and proof of employment
Finding landlords or letting agents to rent to them as asylum seekers or migrants was difficult enough for the respondents. But issues in finding guarantors, employment (and proof of employment) in the UK and proving proof of status were also making it exponentially more difficult for Ukrainians looking to rent.
43% of respondents reported that they had struggled to find money for a deposit to rent a home. Moreover, almost a third (33%) had struggled to provide a work history and just under 1 in 5 (18.5%) had struggled to provide a landlord reference.
We heard from one local government worker who helps Ukrainian refugees, that even where host family pledge to be a guarantor the letting agents refused.
A respondent explained their story: At the moment the big problem I have got is that my income is not considered sufficient because I work in a school as a teacher's assistant part-time (32 hours a week). My salary is less than the minimum wage and I receive Universal Credit. As soon as the [rental] agency hears about it, they immediately refuse and say that there are other, more financially attractive, potential tenants. All this despite the fact that the local council is prepared to pay 6 months' rent in advance alongside a security deposit. One more thing. I am looking for an apartment for me, my mother and my daughter...I have not been able to find anything in two months, while we will have to move out from our hosts next week."
Benefits are a vital lifeline for Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war. However, many have struggled to find a landlord to rent to a welfare claimant.
One respondent said: “It was difficult to find housing for rent. First of all, little is offered. Secondly, if a family with children is on benefits, they generally refuse, especially to refugees.”
A second meanwhile commented: “There were estate agents that categorically refused to consider me while I was receiving Universal Credit. They are looking for a pre-payment of at least three months plus a deposit."
As of the end of September 2022, 30% of all Ukrainian arrivals were children. However, many Ukrainian parents are now struggling to find somewhere to rent for their family.
One respondent said: “There is a huge problem with housing, it is impossible to rent it for Ukrainians, it is very expensive. The majority of people from Ukraine are women with children who cannot work full time while the kids are small and renting housing is therefore unaffordable for them."
A second meanwhile explained: “Moving to a new country is already a big stress, and trying to settle in another country is simply beyond human strength, when you are a mother of three children, and your husband is seriously ill and cannot work. It is impossible to find housing, and it is even more difficult to find money to pay for it, a guarantor is a miracle that happens to other people, work is so difficult there is no strength left to live at the end of the day. While there are bombs and rockets at home."
Over two thirds (68%) of respondents stated that they had struggled to find a landlord or agent to rent to them as a migrant or refugee.
One respondent stated: "I need to find a place to rent within two months. The deadline has already been reduced to 1 month, but the search has been unsuccessful. Many agencies, as soon as they hear an accent, when they see a foreign surname - they simply say that all viewings are booked up for weeks to come."
High rents, deposits and demands for rent upfront
Affordability was also a huge concern, with many Ukrainians struggling against high rents, unemployment, and low wages. Many simply could not afford to pay the rent in the area in which they had been housed.
Over half (54%) of respondents reported that they had struggled to find somewhere affordable to rent and over two in five (43%) had struggled to find money for a deposit.
Having the funds to pay a deposit, and comply with demands for rent upfront, are significant barriers to accessing the private rented sector.
One respondent wrote:"I got the opportunity to rent only because my guarantors offered a higher price and paid rent in advance for six months. No one wants to deal with a temporarily unemployed woman with two kids, with no financial history. Just having a guarantor is not enough."
State of disrepair and getting problems resolved
Those who were able to access housing in the private rented sector often reported standards issues, especially damp and mould, and some indicated a lack of communication or responsiveness from landlords and letting agents.
It is extremely concerning that so many refugees are reporting widespread issues in the private rented sector, especially given the short amount of time the vast majority have lived in the UK. 97.5% of all respondents had been living in the UK for less than a year when they completed the survey.
Almost half (46%) of all respondents had experienced mould or damp in their current property and over a quarter (28%) had experienced leaks and droughts. Moreover, over 1 in 5 (21%) had experienced heating and/or hot water not working properly and over 1 in 10 had experienced poor security (13%) and faulty electrics (13%).
One respondent said: “There was mould in the bathroom, the window in one of the bedrooms was leaking, the washing machine broke down on a regular basis, so did the boiler; there is still no hot water in parts of the house."
Another commented: “There was water leaking through the walls, the shower was leaking too. The internet connection is still unresolved."
Finally, a third wrote: “In the bathroom, you have to open the window all the time to reduce the humidity, so it's always very cold there. We have three small kids."
Over half (52%) of respondents who reported disrepair to their landlord or letting agent stated that they had not repaired the issue.
The number of homeless Ukrainians households have been rising steadily. 3,165 Ukrainian households in England received homelessness assistance from their local authority between February – December 2022. Of these households, 2,230 (70%) include dependent children. Between November and December there was a 37% increase in the number of homeless Ukrainian households.
There were early indications that difficulties in accessing housing in private rented accommodation was a direct cause of homelessness amongst some Ukrainian refugees.
One respondent explained: “After arriving in the UK, I lived with the host for 6 months. At the end of 6 months, I tried to find housing on my own, but was faced with the fact that the agents were not interested in offering my candidacy for consideration by the landlord, since I have no credit history, receive Universal Credit and do not have a source of permanent income. I also have pets - Yorkies. Local council offered me another host, but I had bad luck with that placement, I was met with domestic abuse. Local council sent me to temporary housing, where I am currently staying with my pets."
A second meanwhile stated: “Even if I were able to pay the deposit for six months in advance, the agencies do not agree to my candidacy and I understand that after the period of stay in the sponsor's house, I and my family may end up on the street."
How do we prevent a Ukrainian homelessness crisis in the UK?
The recently announced £150m being made available to Ukrainian refugees across the UK at risk of homelessness (regardless of which scheme through which they arrived) will undoubtedly benefit many who are currently struggling.
Moreover, the £500m fund to buy approximately 4,000 homes for those fleeing war is also greatly welcomed.
However, more can be done to ensure that Ukrainian refugees are supported into the private rented sector so that a homelessness crisis is prevented.
- Appoint a Minister of State for Refugees - Two government departments oversee the two main Ukrainian visa schemes. Such complex cross-departmental work requires a dedicated individual to oversee. Previously this work was conducted to Lord Harrington, the government must appoint their successor.
- Another nationwide call for host families - The Homes for Ukraine Scheme has already facilitated the housing of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing from the war in their country. As the war continues, it is vital that those that can offer accommodation continue to be encouraged to do so.
- Issue guidance to local authorities on how they should be supporting Ukrainian refugees - There were clear inconsistencies in respondents’ experiences in attaining support from their local authorities. Although the government updated their guidance in January 2023, it is vital that the government now issue guidance to local authorities surrounding the specific support they can and should be offering Ukrainian refugees with this funding. For example, whether councils should be issuing deposits, rent upfront, or paying for other housing related costs and how they should prioritise these means of support.
- Work with landlords and letting agents to ensure that Ukrainian refugees are able to access accommodation in the private rented sector - It is vital that landlords and letting agents understand the rights Ukrainians have to rent in the UK. The government must now work to ensure this information is consistently distributed amongst landlord associations and groups as well as letting agents.
- End demands for upfront rent - It is unreasonable that private renters should be expected to provide months or even years of rent upfront to acquire a tenancy. Ukrainian refugees are being routinely locked-out of good quality housing because of these requirements. In the White Paper published by the government in June 2022, ‘A fairer private rented sector’, the government said that they would explore restrictions on upfront rent.
Together we can fight to prevent a Ukrainian homelessness crisis.
Are you a Ukrainian refugee?
Access our private renter factsheets available in Ukrainian here:
Access Opora's website for advice and support here.
Join Opora's telegram here.
Can you support our campaign?
To download our evidence to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee click here.