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New consultation on denying migrants access to social housing

The government has launched a formal and anodyne-sounding “Consultation on reforms to social housing allocations“. It proposed a new series of bars to being allocated certain types of social housing, including a “UK connection test” which would be passed by being a British citizen, EEA citizen with equal treatment rights, a foreign national lawfully resident for 10 years or a resettled refugee. The two main groups to be excluded would be, I think:

  1. Migrants who have achieved settlement (typically after five years residence) but not yet resident for 10 years
  2. Refugees, who are currently entitled to social housing as soon as they are recognised as refugees

I imagine very few migrants in the 5-10 year residence period actually need or currently get social housing, in which case the main affected group will be refugees.

If you’ve been around long enough, you may remember the last attempt to target welfare entitlements for newly recognised refugees. That was way back in… 2022, with the ‘differential treatment’ policy. I never thought that would be implemented because it was clearly and indisputably in breach of the Refugee Convention’s parity of treatment clauses. For example, Article 21 on housing states:

As regards housing, the Contracting States, in so far as the matter is regulated by laws or regulations or is subject to the control of public authorities, shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory treatment as favourable as possible and, in any event, not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances

Article 21, Refugee Convention

Whether these new proposals violate the United Kingdom’s international law obligations depends on the comparator. On one analysis (the right one, I would suggest), other refugees are the “aliens generally in the same circumstances”. This is particularly so given the Refugee Convention is all about refugees.

But the British government might well argue otherwise, rather disingenuously in my view. There being no International Court of Refugees to adjudicate whether a state is or is not in violation of the Refugee Convention, the issue may never be decided.

But, as they suggest over on housing law blog Nearly Legal, it may not make much difference in practice. Councils will still be under a duty to provide homelessness support to refugees and what housing stock is available may have to be reshuffled to achieve that.

The proposals also involve a massive new central interference with local authority housing allocation policies and the imposition of new requirements that are likely to affect literally no-one or maybe a handful of individuals. It’s all very Home Office.

The deadline for responses is late March 2024.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Colin Yeo

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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