Minority Ethnic Housing Project
Up until 2017, when funding ceased, the Project provided advice and support to ethnic minorities facing homelessness and other housing issues.
Clients often presented with multiple issues, for example: financial problems that arise from errors with benefit payments may lead to the risk of eviction or even homelessness. The main issues faced by clients accessing the service between December 2015 and December 2016 included problems with benefits, eviction/homelessness, being threatened with eviction/homelessness, employability, overcrowding, affordable tenancy, rent arrears, immigration, problems with safety/health, domestic abuse, and money/debt problems.
Benefits and financial issues are the consistent problems facing clients. Since December 2015, affordability has been an issue in both privately rented accommodation and social housing, where tenants struggle with rental costs, even for temporary accommodation. As the welfare and immigration systems become more restrictive and complicated for migrants, more individuals are falling through the net and facing great financial hardship or homelessness. For many clients, financial problems have been directly linked to losing the right to reside (for EEA nationals), or dealing with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). It is likely that further financial hardship and increased rent arrears can be expected with continual changes in welfare benefits, immigration legislation, and the Brexit process.
Impact of Benefit changes
From April 2014, EEA jobseekers without a permanent right to reside have been unable to claim Housing Benefit, and are now only allowed to receive Jobseekers’ Allowance for six months. Underoccupancy fees – the bedroom tax – was applied from March 2014, reducing Housing Benefit payments for tenants in social housing with one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms. As of April 2016, Housing Benefit can only be backdated by one month. Benefit caps, the shift to Universal Credit, and limits on Child Benefit will also reduce the amount many people can claim.
These issues, combined with outcomes of decisions made by the DWP, especially around the Right to Reside, can lead to individuals struggling financially, accruing debt and rent arrears, which they are then unable to repay with Housing Benefit.
Language barriers and a lack of knowledge about rights and entitlements have meant that a number of people accessing the MEHP service have done so at crisis point, when the timescale to resolve these issues is limited. All of the above has led to an ever-increasing requirement for the specialist advice provided by the MEHP.
Data Source: 2016: Minority Ethnic Housing Project (MEHP), 2016: Annual Report.
Between 2013 and 2017, the Social Support and Migration in Scotland (SSAMIS) project interviewed over 200 migrants and 60 experts across Scotland, focusing their work on Aberdeen City and rural Aberdeenshire.
Although some issues were migrant-specific, others reflect more general problems of local authority housing provision (e.g. long waiting lists) and the private rental sector (e.g. irresponsible landlords; long-term tenant insecurity). The negative impact of such issues were often magnified for migrants due to low levels of English and a lack of knowledge of the local context. Migrants were often unaware of their rights or where to go for help, and with smaller social networks, they had less informal support when facing difficult circumstances.
New arrivals often had difficulty understanding the rental market, and they often stayed with friends or family on arriving in Scotland, before looking for private rental or social housing. Many offered rooms temporarily to others once they were more established in Aberdeen/shire. They had mixed experiences with neighbours: not many instances of racism, but where relationships with neighbours broke down, this was often exacerbated by a lack of inter-cultural understanding on both sides, e.g. of norms around parking, loud music, parties, etc.
Private Rental Housing
There were mixed experiences here: some spoke positively despite living in cramped communal living arrangements, whereas others faced many problems with landlords.
Landlords were often reluctant to let to families with children, and they sometimes exploited
migrants’ lack of knowledge, for example walking into flats without prior permission, not returning security deposits, etc. Housing conditions were often substandard, with damp, mould or severe draughts, and security was an issue in some HMO properties, where rooms were rented out individually. Helping out family and friends was very common, but could lead to temporary overcrowding.
High demand was an issue across the region: in Aberdeen, migrants complained about being given social housing in areas of multiple deprivation; in Aberdeenshire, high demand for housing in towns meant a choice between social housing in small, rural villages, or staying in
privately rented accommodation for several years waiting for a town property to become available. Rural living could be seen as positive (e.g. quiet, secluded), but could also compound typical migrant problems such as social isolation. There was little ESOL support in rural areas and very limited opening hours for public spaces such as libraries. Public transport could be patchy, especially for those needing to work atypical hours/shift patterns in factories.
Both migrants and expert interviewees noted a common perception (though no evidence) that the housing queues were run unfairly – that particular nationalities or types of people would to ‘jump the queue’ or receive favourable treatment. This was usually due to a misunderstanding of pointsbased systems which prioritise certain demographics.
Many migrants considered buying a house a long-term goal, typically requiring being settled and established in a reliable job for several years. However, financial issues and high housing costs often kept this goal out of reach. In general, migrants who had bought property said it was fairly straightforward. Some with low levels of English received help from local, hourly-paid interpreters/advisors; others drew on local contacts made through their jobs. Experts working in Aberdeen City spoke about a growing number of Polish HMO landlords who rented properties to other migrants.
In the early EU accession period (c.2004-2007), agencies would bring migrants to Scotland and promise that housing would be sorted out, but sometimes this was poor quality and overcrowded. This scenario has become less common in recent years, with housing being
run more responsibly by the companies involved. Agricultural workers were more likely to live in employer-provided accommodation; seasonal fruit-pickers in Aberdeenshire tended to live in on-site caravans of varying quality. Experts described situations where employers demanded significant deposits and charged for accommodation through wages, leaving workers very little actual pay.
More information, including briefing papers on a range of topics, is available on the SSAMIS website: Link.
Data Source: 2017: SSAMIS: Migrants and Housing in Aberdeen/shire. Link.