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By J
13/03/2022

The forthcoming Ukranian housing scheme

The media are today (Sunday 13.3.22) reporting that the government are going to launch an extra-statutory scheme on Monday whereby people will be able to offer accommodation to Ukranians fleeing the invasion. Details are sketchy, but the main points seem to be that:

(a) you can offer a room (or rooms?) in your own house or a seperate house;

(b) it needs to be for a minimum term of six months; and,

(c) it must be rent free to the occupiers, albeit the government will pay you £350 pcm.

Anything that allows people to help is, obviously, A Good Thing, but I confess to some housing law related concerns. I know we have civil servants and politicians who read this, so…

1) I assume that any Ukranian offered housing under this scheme will automatically be afforded a “Right to Rent” under the Immigration Act 2014? (England only – Wales and Scotland don’t have this problem). I’m not sure of the precise immigration status of such people and it may be that the government needs to issue bespoke authorisations to individuals. Given that the Home Office is responsible for such matters I don’t think it’s churlish to suggest there may be problems here.

2) Is the £350 pcm to be treated as income for tax purposes (or for benefits purposes)? That seems to me to be quite important. It would, for example, be ludicrous if someone who rented their home and received some HB/UC was then to lose that benefit because the £350 pcm for letting a spare room took them over the relevant income thresholds.

3) How is the 6 month period to be secured? If the letting is of a single room in a home occupied by the owner/tenant then this is a “resident landlord” case and so no real security of tenure. If the letting is of a whole house then whilst it *might* be a valid tenancy (‘tho even that isn’t clear – this might be another example of the “no intention to create legal relations” / “akin to charity” cases such as Booker v Palmer) , it’d only be a common law tenancy and not attract assured tenancy status because of the “no rent” exclusion in Sch.1, Housing Act 1988. So is the government proposing to provide a particular form of agreement which is for a fixed term and has no break clause or other power for early termination?

4) It shouldn’t be assumed that people are allowed to let Ukranians live in their homes (whether a room or a whole property). Anyone with a mortgage may well find their mortgage terms and conditions require the consent of the lender. And anyone with a leasehold title needs to see what the lease permits as regards parting with possession of the whole or part. The range of possible wording of clauses is vast. And what about associated property contracts, e.g. household insurance contracts. Do you need to notify your insurer?

5) Anyone going down this route needs to check whether they’ll need a licence under Parts 2 or 3, Housing Act 2004. I accept that the prospects of local authority enforcement must be quite low but it’s still something I’d be concerned about.

6)  Don’t forget the statutory overcrowding offences in the Housing Act 1985 and the tendency of children to grow older, thus affecting the overcrowding status. Again, whilst I suspect prosecution would be an unlikely outcome, I’d rather know that the problem doesn’t arise (e.g. because of a legislative waiver) rather than rely on the checks and balances within the prosecution system.

7) Council tax – obviously any vacant home modifications will need to change if a whole house is to be let. Depending on where you are in the country, you may find your £350 pcm is all taken by council tax!

Now, it may be that the government has thought of some of this but, given the inadequate nature of the response thus far, I rather fear that it has not.

 

** Update – 15.3.22

More details about the scheme are now available here. When the Secretary of State gave his statement to the House of Commons on 14.3.22, he expressly said the money was tax free and would not affect the council tax or welfare benefits position.

J is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.

28 Comments

  1. Olivia Pulley-Crowther

    I am unclear as to how we can get around the Equality Act 2010 in relation to this scheme, given that there are refugees from various other nations around the world who will not be afforded the same benefits. I agree that assisting refugees must be a Good Thing, and I’m assuming that the Government has wide discretion in this area. I am genuinely am unclear on this point, as I am not an immigration specialist. Is the government able to favour refugees from one country over another?

    Reply
    • Geraldine Winkler

      Hear , hear, Olivia!

      Reply
    • Phill Warren

      HI Olivia, yes government can make separate provision for specific circumstances, such as the recent schemes for Syrians, Afghans, and going further back, those who were affected by volcanic activity in Montserrat.

      Reply
      • AmyH

        Specific regulations have been made in respect of access to homelessness services and social housing. I think Olivia is referring to possible discrimination in terms of ‘disposing of premises’ where individuals are making accommodation available, but only to Ukrainian nationals? S.33 EA 2010?

        Reply
  2. Mandy Thomson

    A *social* tenant in receipt of UC is allowed to take in a lodger without this affecting their benefit.

    Reply
    • Luke

      But wouldn’t a *social* tenant with an extra room (in order to be able to offer it to a lodger), be caught by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’?

      Reply
      • Clare Powell

        The Bedroom Tax penalises households that have a ‘spare room’ (as defined by benefit regulations), so we might expect someone taking in a lodger to no longer be affected. This is another point that needs checking.

        Reply
        • Luke

          I think that’s ‘spare’ as per their own assessed needs, not a literal case of “Oh, I’ve filled it (with a lodger), therefore it’s no longer ‘spare’…”

    • Timmy

      Just to clarify, in UC the room is still excess to the requirements of the claimant’s household so the tenant will still be subject to bedroom tax. But income is only income if it is on the list of what counts as income in the regs, so unless the government deliberately puts it on the list, it won’t be counted as income for UC.

      In HB the room is filled when it is filled, so the tenant won’t be subject to bedroom tax for that bedroom. I think we’ll have to wait and see whether this is income for HB – I would hope it would be added to the disregard list, but who knows what those crazy cats in the government will do?

      Reply
  3. Isabel Jones

    While some of the points raised may be an issue, I don’t think Right to Rent will be for two reasons. First, Right to Rent checks are only required if rent is paid. As the plan is that no rent will be charged, the provisions can’t apply. Secondly, even if they did, the only people who don’t have a right to rent are people without leave to remain. The whole point of the scheme is that people will be granted limited leave to remain (a visa), so they would have a right to rent unless specifically excluded.
    On the Equality Act issue, it is a problem both ways as the issue for the Ukrainian people is that they WON’T be granted refugee status. The government is trying to bypass its responsibility to people who would meet the international standard for refugee status, by offering this much more limited route into the UK. So the Ukrainians granted leave under this scheme will lose out in terms of their rights in the UK. But they may possibly get a better standard of accommodation, in the short term, compared to what is given by the Home Office’s private contractors to people seeking asylum – if the people offering accommodation a genuine good souls and not rogue landlords. What will happen if the arrangement breaks down is my main concern, as without access to financial help or Housing Act 96 housing assistance, the people will be left homeless with no way of solving the issue.

    Reply
    • J

      But this is where the detail is – as you know – very important. If the gov payment is “in the nature of rent” (s.20(5), 2014 Act) then we have a problem. So how the government frames the payment is crucial.

      Entirely agree re the contracting out nature of support and the problems with the 1996 Act (or Pt.2, Housing (Wales) Act 2014) in due course.

      Reply
  4. Mick O'Brien

    There must have to be some sort of checking/inspection process in place to prevent corruption , exploitation , safeguarding the vulnerable and living conditions etc etc . Who is going to do this ?

    Reply
    • jen moore

      ABSOLUTELY AGREE: especially since the majority of these refugees will be women on their own, or with very young children.. all of whom will be at risk of all kinds of abuse, from domestic and sexual “services” to paedophilia and involvement in crime.. they will for the most part be isolated, may have no Engish, have no transport and no funds with which to “escape”, especially in an unknown environment, where they may have no internet or other information access. a very serious issue

      Reply
      • Luke

        Perhaps reason for Govt. to not dive head-first into such a programme, no matter how well-meaning, especially with a long history of never getting complex projects right, certainly not first time…

        Reply
    • digitig

      My local council inspected the property I am making available (as a self contained unit) to ensure its suitability for the people I am sponsoring, and required I have a basic DBS check. The council will also be inspecting again when the refugees arrive (due later this week). So yes, there is a checking/inspection process, at least where I am.

      Reply
  5. Safi

    J is SO right that this needs to be thought through! I am disabled, I live in a one bedroom social housing flat, but I was prepared to share my modest home with a refugee from Ukraine for a period offering some respite while they figure out whether to make a life in the UK or just seek some sanctuary with a hope to return one day.
    The idea of taking money for offering charity was an anathema to me but then there were the practical considerations. I am on EESA (support group) and I am zero rated for Council Tax, my rent is paid direct to the Housing Association. I know for a fact that my Housing Benefit and Council tax credit would take a deduction of 85% of the £350 a month. The Council have been very clear on this, any money is considered income for the purpose of these, so I would be left with £52.50 but it does not stop there.

    That income would change my zero rated status on Council Tax, I think it would push it to 20% of the bill so add close to £400 a year and I would lose any single occupant discount. Also the past has taught me that benefits are like dominoes; once the DWP decided to have some fun and stopped my income, the Council then did too, the dominoes kept falling. It took about 3 months to sort out and to this day my Rent account has never recovered.

    My first thought was to ask for the £350 to be paid to the refugee, but then I realised that I would actually be incurring costs, for a start there is my heating and hot water. I was already in crisis on heating or eating, before the energy hikes last October I was on choosing to Eat rather than Heat (except that my standing charge has increased by 300%). Now I am in a car going 80mph towards a brick wall and the increase in April will kill me, I mean that literally because I cannot live with debt, I will explain why.

    I lost my home after falling off society’s ladder, you know that one you are under the illusion you are climbing right now. I lost my family, my business and was made homeless with £85,000 of debt from trying to survive and trying not to go on benefits. I serviced that debt for years like a mug, each payment extended the debt for six years until I finally had a mental breakdown and accepted I had to default on the debt.

    Those lovely credit companies tried to get me to pay £1 a month for each debt and I am ashamed that I fell for that trick for some time before I was advised to stop paying anything so the debt would default and it would take 6 years to fall off statute. One of the credit companies waiting until the 5th year and did what is known as a back door CCJ, they take court action for the debt at an address you were at 15 years ago. I did not see it and they get their CCJ for £2 rubber stamped and 6 more years of shame I could have paid £300 to undo the CCJ but the debt would remain active for 6 years and I did not have £300.

    Now you might ask why not go bankrupt, first I did not have the money but mostly it was the shame. I was a Trustee of a disabled children’s charity and wherever you look you see other examples of people who are prohibited if they have ever been made bankrupt. Also your name is added to a permanent bad insolvency shame list for all of history. I was in such a poor mental state that I would have rather killed myself than go bankrupt.

    Since being street homeless (when I found this site) I have followed the progress of housing law because my wonderful Landlord tried to evict me in 3 days (despite me having paid 3 months’ rent in advance) and it was Giles Peaker who managed to help me delay that eviction by educating me on my rights. I was still made homeless, but it gave me some time to try and figure out my options.

    Of course the Council told me they had no duty to me as my kids did not live with me. Friends disappeared, the awkward looks, nobody wants a reminder of what they are only a pubic hair away from if they lose their livelihood. They saw me take 18 months to run down what it had taken me half a century to collect. All possessions are totally meaningless, but some of them meant something to me, I had to take them to the tip or face being charged if I left them in the home I was being evicted from. I can’t explain how that felt, a cross between cutting off my limbs, memories and peeling away my life. Every time I felt things could not get worse life showed me it certainly could and would.

    After being street homeless for 6 months the homeless charity who would give me sandwiches and coffee twice a week said they were concerned about my health. I had been living off cream crackers and rick tea biscuits because when you are homeless you realise that nothing keeps more than a few hours, not even orange juice; so it is 17p water and these fatty carbs that cost 39p and 24p a pack.

    My health continued to deteriorate and to be honest I went to sleep praying I would not wake up. I did not fall into the drug pit that I saw so many other homeless people in, for me it was about the only thing I could hold on to for the sake of my own dignity. Eventually, a kind lady from the homeless charity coffee session persuaded me to go to Council, actually they practically frogmarched me there. I had six weeks of assessment in a temporary housing place (a palace to me) and they decided they had a housing duty to me. It took 13 months in that place before my social housing home was found.

    So of course I would like to play my part in helping people in Ukraine who through no fault of their own are being shelled to death by Russia’s President Putain for the sake of his pathetic ego. My home is humble, all my possessions are courtesy of Freecycle, but I figure someone would prefer my sofa to homelessness even if it was just while they were waiting. Something none of my so called friends were prepared to offer me when I was homeless, except one in another Country I could not get to.

    I thought this £350 might help me face this financial crisis caused before the Gas crisis that hits in April, or the one that is expected to take lowest energy bills to £4000 per annum. With no help from Rishi Sunak; the £150 heating thing is closed, I “might” be able to get the £150 rebate in Council Tax but Council are not sure, they say it is discretionary. The £200 forced debt from the Energy Companies who have fleeced £13bn out of us to pay for smart meters is not a solution.

    Perhaps being a propeller head with budgets Mr Sunak could tell me how when I receive about £6700 a year ESA I can afford to pay £2000 in energy (1500 above what I was paying ) with £350 AND face that hike to £4000 a year due to Russian invasion? The journey I face is first a forced smart meter which can become a smart meter in the blink of an eye, set remotely. I know this because my neighbour went down this route and now has regular power cuts and mounting debt on the meter, you do not get energy until you service the debt AND you get to pay more for this smart meter turned pre-payment meter.

    Well “Swishi Rishi” I will not live like that, I will take my own life before I let that happen. I know my life means nothing to you, but it is on your hands. I cannot work, I can barely walk to the loo, I am in chronic pain day and night, I have about 90 minutes of lucidity a day and today I am using that to write this post.

    So back to supporting Ukrainians, I seriously wanted to help someone, although I would need for them to be a non-smoker because Covid ruined my lungs. Also I do not want to feel vulnerable in my own home so I need some options if it does not work out, thus a 6 month commitment may not be practical. I can’t expect them to live with no heating or put up with what I put up with because of my economic state (no internet, no BBC, boiler off except for when I have shower, not flushing the loo unless it is brown).

    I thought the £350 might help me face the energy crisis, but I can’t risk the damage it would do to my financial status. I have absolutely no reserves, I can’t eat food bank food, so live off supermarket over date food which regularly gives me intestinal infections which lead to diverticulitis flare ups (very unpleasant).

    As always with MP’s and Government, THEY DON’T THINK THINGS THROUGH.

    For the legal status of leases, I think they have to be considered as lodgers and a formal lodger agreement drawn up so they know their rights and the live in Landlord also has some protection.

    Of course Ukrainians Refugees need the Right to Rent and I think it is an important step to stop those who would seek to pretend to be Ukrainian to abuse the system, every place a faker takes is a place lost to a genuine refugee.

    I for one would be prepared to have this £350 paid to the Ukrainian Refugee tax free (they are a Refugee whatever the Government may wish to suggest and it will not be long before someone denied a refugee right takes them to Court and that is confirmed), they then could contribute to the bills of the household.

    It seems to me that what those of us prepared to take in a Ukrainian refugee should be enabled to do so without it affecting us detrimentally. I will probably still try to help someone but through a social grapevine as a place to stay while they get themselves sorted. No payment from the State, just an altruistic and charitable act because we want to end the suffering in Ukraine or at least help the victims.

    So yes J, there are some of us who do consider housing law practitioners to be the single greatest kind of hero known to humankind and I also find it very odd that so few people share this view.

    Reply
    • Luke

      Re the lodger agreement you mention, as discussed, this would not give security of tenure as the Govt. appear to suggest is necessary. I would also suspect the £350 will not be paid until *after* the six month minimum period has elapsed.

      Reply
      • John

        If the Ukrainian is entitled to benefits (or gets a job) they would at least be able to chip in for bills.

        Reply
        • Luke

          Able, but not obligated.

  6. Mark G

    Do we need to consider HMO status, either Small HMO, or worse, inadvertently creating a Licensable HMO.
    This could happen where tenants have a spare room which is undersized but available.
    Article 4 areas, insurance, mortgage terms could all be breached.
    Some councils will likely see this as a way to generate cash from LL who didn’t know their tenants had offered their spare room.

    Reply
  7. jack

    Safi, your situation explains a lot about our society and the complexities of our social systems. Your are able to articulate your journey whilst many who are on the streets cannot. You identify with those left homeless in Ukraine. You could use the money to help keep your head above water with bills. And I can also see how under pressure it is difficult to tick all the boxes if you are in govt. (although if they can’t get it right…). Taking this out of benefits would be wrong if it isn’t taxable. In my eyes it’s rent a room and therefore untaxable. Some would say after what you’ve been through you should concentrate on yourself. Guess what? By doing this you are hoping to help someone and help yourself in the process. I wish you luck

    Reply
  8. Andrew M

    Mark G indeed perhaps an HMO. What agreement can a person unversed in housing law use? What happens when they ask them to move out at any point or are in breach? Do they have immunity if the person has dodgy documents and they get the knock? Its a brilliant kind idea, but waiting a day and someone could have knocked up a model licence and some regulations surely, its not unprecedented. What happened to all the R.I.F. tents toilets and kitchens materials from Afghanistan, cany we use that to house them while they are processed? There are vast parts of European countries unused we could have parked them in and we all chip in. As always the civil service dont think it through.

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      Good heavens, Andrew. What a deeply unpleasant person you appear to be.

      There are indeed a lot of questions and issues about the scheme that need addressing. But your comments on tents and unused parts of European countries manage to be both cruel and ignorant, while your other comments are only about your own self interest.

      Reply
      • david render

        You’re an unpleasant person, he’s got a right to an opinion without getting insulted by a cretin like you obviously are, how about you taking in a few Ukrainians and giving the £81 a week to the victims. You appear to be the type of person who wants to make every one else pay for something you probably don’t want to yourself. He actually said he was happy to help pay.

        Reply
        • Giles Peaker

          Hi David, nice of you to stop by, miss the point and indulge in some pointless abuse. I always find that makes for a convincing position. And chipping in to help pay for people to be kept in tents in an ‘unused part of Europe’? Yeah, kindness incarnate.

          Let me guess, you arrived at this post via property118? Yes or no?

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