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Ukrainian refugees could be facing discrimination from landlords, LBC understands

24 November 2022, 07:34

Some landlords may be discriminating against Ukrainians living in the UK
Some landlords may be discriminating against Ukrainians living in the UK. Picture: Alamy

By Fraser Knight

Some landlords may be discriminating against Ukrainians living in the UK and blocking them from accessing private rented accommodation, it's claimed.

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LBC has heard accusations of some refusing to allow refugees to arrange viewings or discretely turning them away, simply because of their status.

Eugenie fled Kherson in the south of Ukraine when the war broke out there and moved to Buckinghamshire with four of her children as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

After the initial six month agreement with her host came to an end, she started enquiring about a place of her own and told LBC she was met with huge barriers, despite the family she was living with offering to step in as a guarantor.

“I was surprised because before all of the people here have been very nice with us,” she said.

“I thought maybe I’d said something wrong in the conversations we had.”

Rob Hamilton, who Eugenie had been staying with, told us he started making calls on her behalf to try and help make progress in her hunt for a new home.

He said: “They would be all sales to you about the property and then you’d explain the situation later on in the call - that actually you were calling on behalf of Ukrainian refugees - and the conversation would go dead.

“They’d say ‘oh I don’t think this property would be suitable for this’ and that happened with me calling multiple times and that was despite us, early in the process, agreeing to be guarantors.”

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Almost half of Ukrainians who have moved to the UK since Russia’s invasion began are facing barriers when trying to access private rented accommodation
Almost half of Ukrainians who have moved to the UK since Russia’s invasion began are facing barriers when trying to access private rented accommodation. Picture: Alamy

A survey by the Office for National Statistics earlier this week suggested almost half of Ukrainians who have moved to the UK since Russia’s invasion began are facing barriers when trying to access private rented accommodation.

The most common reason given was a lack of guarantor or references.

Russell Conway, a senior partner and housing lawyer at Oliver Fisher Solicitors in north London told LBC that in cases where a host family has offered to step in with a guarantee of rent, refusing them access could be proved unlawful.

“It would be unlawful because a landlord cannot discriminate against a prospective tenant on the grounds of ethnicity, country of origin or whether, in fact, the tenant is a refugee or asylum seeker.

“The problem is, however, people desperate for accommodation really don’t want to get caught up in satellite litigation, suing a letting agent or landlord for discrimination.

“They want a roof over their heads and, in most cases, they’re simply just going to go to another letting agent or another notice board looking for accommodation.

He went on to explain: “It really is the gold standard to have a tenancy agreement with a tenant and a guarantor guaranteeing payment of the rent.

“If the tenant simply comes on hard times and cannot pay the rent, the landlord can just get a judgement against the guarantor.”

Government figures show at least 2175 Ukrainian refugees have declared themself homeless since arriving in the UK, piling increasing demand on social housing availability.
Government figures show at least 2175 Ukrainian refugees have declared themself homeless since arriving in the UK, piling increasing demand on social housing availability. Picture: Alamy

There have been growing concerns of widespread homelessness among the thousands of people who fled the eastern European country and moved to the UK as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Government figures show at least 2175 Ukrainian refugees have declared themself homeless since arriving in the UK, piling increasing demand on social housing availability.

Some councils and charities have accused ministers of failing to plan ahead past the end of the scheme’s first six months, which hosts were asked to sign up to.

Robina Qureshi from Positive Action in Housing told us: “What we need now is a concerted specific strategy to make sure homelessness does not emerge as hosting arrangements come to an end.

“We are concerned that unless there is intervention now we are going to see serious homelessness problems emerging later down the line, which will affect everyones ability to stand on their own two feet, get jobs and settle down the best they can while the Ukraine war continues and things get worse.

She added: "What we are seeing is not necessarily discrimination against Ukrainians per se but discrimination against those who don't have credit history, discrimination against those who are on universal credit rather than working and discrimination against those who don't have references or guarantors.

"I think that it affects a far wider group of people, but we accept that it's going to significantly affect the most immediate issue which is the large number of Ukrainian refugees who are staying with hosts as those arrangements come to an end.

"It can seem like discrimination but we can see wider issues. These things need to be investigated before we use words like that."

Suitcases representing the plight of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war
Suitcases representing the plight of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war. Picture: Alamy

Analysis by LBC has also found some of the country’s most affluent communities may be set to face the brunt of a potential housing crisis after welcoming more refugees than other areas.

In West London, for example, Richmond upon Thames has welcomed 637 Ukrainians under the government’s scheme, but has already seen at least 75 families left without a place to live after their hosts ended their agreement.

Before the Homes for Ukraine scheme began, the Borough Council only had 221 homes available for allocation - just 104 of them with two or more bedrooms.

The waiting list for housing in the borough, though, stood at more than 5,000 people.

Some councils have desperately asked host families to extend their offers of housing Ukrainians past the initial six-month agreement.

In certain areas, local authorities have even increased the amount of financial support given as a ‘thank you’ payment.

But many have told LBC they need a break after making sacrifices over the past months.

Bridget Smith, vice chair of the District Councils’ Network, said: “The cost of living is undoubtedly a factor but I think Christmas is possibly a reason as well, where people need the space in their homes for family and friends coming to visit.

“If you’ve given up space in your home to house people for six months and you normally have all your family arrive for Christmas, taking up all the beds and the space in your house, it just makes it a more difficult decision to continue.

“What I’m worried about is that the government thinks the job has been done.”

The government currently pays councils £10,500 for each Ukrainian welcomed in their locality as part of Homes for Ukraine and says that should be used to accommodate refugees in their communities.

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