People from other countries have been migrating to Britain for many years. Some have fled violence back home. Others have simply come here to make a better life for themselves. Most find work and a place to live.

Migrants to Britain have always been at greater risk of losing their home if they lose their job. It is harder to rebuild your life without family and friends nearby, or a good understanding of the language. In recent years the government has changed the rules around the benefits and services migrants are entitled to. This is causing homelessness and making it harder for migrants to move on from homelessness.

We are calling on the UK government to provide the right support to homeless migrants. People should only be helped to return home if that is the right option for them.

European migrants

Since 2015 the government has made efforts to return rough sleepers from the European Economic Area (EEA) to their home country. This included people who were being supported by homelessness services and were trying to find work and rebuild their lives. 

In December 2017, the High Court ruled that the Home Office policy designating rough sleeping as an abuse of EEA nationals' right to free movement was unlawful and discriminatory. 

While this ruling is welcome, the experience of EEA national rough sleepers while this practice was on-going raised serious concerns about the immigration detention process, the impact it has on migrant rough sleepers and the potential for it to be a cause of homelessness. 

There is no clear evidence on how many homeless people are being detained and removed from Britain, or how many people are being released and left at high risk of destitution and homelessness. We are trying to better understand what is happening to people. 

Benefit rules

In 2014 the UK government changed the rules on the benefits that European Economic Area (EEA) citizens can claim. This generally means European nationals cannot claim Housing Benefit unless they are working. Even then they must prove that their employment meets a number of tests, otherwise they cannot get help to cover their rent. The government has said it wants to restrict European nationals’ ability to claim benefits even further.

We think these rules make it much more likely that Europeans living here will become homeless if they lose a job. Our services help people regardless of their nationality. But these rules are making it much harder to help people escape homelessness.

We will continue to raise these issues as the government negotiates the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Right to rent

Since 2016 landlords in England have had to check the immigration status of prospective tenants before granting them a tenancy. This is known as right to rent. If the landlord is found to be renting out their property to someone who is living in the country illegally they are liable for a fine of up to £3000.  

For many people the check involves showing the landlord their passport or visa. However, for people who have been homeless, it can be much more difficult, as many don’t have identity documents. This could be because their documents have been lost or stolen whilst sleeping rough or moving round different accommodation, or they never had a passport. People who have to leave their home in a hurry, for example if fleeing domestic violence, often have to leave their possessions behind. Landlords are likely to go with prospective tenants who have their ID rather than those who have none.

Before the policy was rolled out in 2016, the government commissioned a pilot. The evaluation of this found that local charities reported that the scheme was causing homelessness. There was also some evidence of racial discrimination. Additionally, awareness of the policy was very low amongst tenants. (source: Gov.uk evaluation of the right to rent scheme, 2015).

We are part of the Home Office's Advisory Panel on right to rent and have been successful in increasing options for people who don’t have a passport to prove their identity. There is now a long list of alternative documents (see Home Office Document checks guide (PDF), a code of practice for landlords and exemptions for emergency accommodation.

Read more about our support for landlords.