Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Rural Refugee Network?
For many of us the scale of the Syrian crisis can seem so overwhelming that we feel powerless to make a difference. But there are already many groups who are contributing to the UK’s proud tradition of offering sanctuary to people who have been forced to leave their homes and livelihoods behind. They help by providing a welcome, donating goods, integrating families into local communities and rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. Most of all they can help with housing, which is the subject of this Q&A sheet.
The Rural Refugee Network (RRN) is a registered charity offering sanctuary to those who have been displaced from their own countries. Most, though not all, of the refugees we help have had to flee the devastating war in Syria. We work to find privately owned properties for refugee couples, children and families, and offer practical and emotional support to help them settle in to their new environment, as outlined below.
How does the Rural Refugee Network (RRN) find a property for a vulnerable refugee family?
The RRN relies on the generosity of private landlords wanting to offer a safe haven to a refugee family. Some landlords may already own a property that might be available for rent, or have inherited one from a relative that they wish to put tenants in; others may wish to purchase a property as an investment, and offer it to a refugee family; and others may wish to form a syndicate with like-minded individuals and purchase a house collectively.
What kind of properties does the RRN look for?
We look for properties – houses or apartments – with 1, 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms. Some families who come over are the ‘nuclear structure’ of parents and children, but others may be ‘linked families’, of parents, children and grandparents or uncles/aunts related to a family who has already been resettled nearby.
Ideally, we look for properties that are within close distance of amenities such as shops, doctors, schools and transport links, to enable the families to familiarise themselves with their new environment, and settle in as smoothly as possible. Suburban or urban settings are preferred, or areas with a strong, supportive local community. Rural or village settings work well as long as they have good transport links to amenities.
All properties need to have their own front door or entrance. It is not possible to house a family or individuals within your own home unless in a separate flat. If you are interested in housing an asylum seeker or refugee in a room within your own home, there are several charities that would be able to help you, such as Refugees At Home (www.refugeesathome.org).
What does the RRN do when a potential property has been identified?
We need to view any potential property, and our trained volunteers work closely with the relevant Local and County Councils to ensure it meets all appropriate criteria in terms of layout and location, as outlined above.
When a property is approved by the local council, the RRN can then help to prepare the property for a family, with our dedicated Resettlement Team; we can help carry out cosmetic and/or safety improvements and furnish the house completely as required. Again, we work closely with the relevant local authority and the charity which provides the family with an official case worker (eg Two Saints and East Hants and Hampshire County Council, as well as the local district or city council in the case of Hampshire) to prepare the house for arrival.
Finally, the County Council works with the Home Office to identify a family that would best suit the property and its location (eg if it is particularly close to a 6th Form College, secondary school or primary school), or if existing family members have been resettled nearby.
How does the landlord receive rental income?
The landlord receives rent in the form of Housing Benefit set at the local BRMA, or Broad Rental Market Area, rate, directly from the council. The BRMA is the area in which the Housing Benefit is set based on the Local Housing Allowance, and varies around the country. The monthly income from BRMA will generally be lower than the full market rental income in any given area, but the length of rental term and lack of void periods tends to offer more security than the private rented market. The Local Authority will also arrange for a 1-month deposit bond to be held as security. If a property is accepted for use but there is a delay in the refugees’ arrival for any reason, the Local Authority will usually pay void costs from when the property is ready and available to rent until when it is occupied.
How can I find out what the BRMA rate for my property would be?
The BRMA rates are available on the website www.gov.uk/government/publications/understanding-localhousing-allowance-rates-broad-rental-market-areas. The RRN can help you by liaising with the local authority.
I have checked the BRMA and found that the rental income I would receive would be less than I can get on the open market – can the RRN help?
In some instances there can be a gap between what the local authority will pay landlords in rent and the amount a landlord might receive in they were renting their property privately. Most of our landlords are helping for personal and/or charitable reasons and are aware that there may be a shortfall, and are happy to meet this.
Whilst it is not possible for the RRN to ‘top up’ rents ie meet any shortfall on the rent, there are other ways in which we can help. Firstly we are happy to invest in making the property ready for arrival if required: work we’ve carried out on properties so far has included painting, installing white goods and telephone and satellite cables, installing new curtains, carpets, putting up safety rails, garden work, as well as completely furnishing each property with hard and soft furnishings.
In addition, the RRN can help with any on-going maintenance required during the first two years. We are happy to pay for any maintenance needed up to £250. This support can be called upon up to 3 times during this time (ie up to £750 in total).
Lastly, on completion of your tenancy in the unlikely event of any additional repairs being required that the bond does not cover, the RRN will assist with this (over and above normal wear and tear).
How long would a refugee family occupy my property?
We ask that a family is offered at least a 2 year contract, to give them the opportunity to settle in as best they can, but you could offer them a longer tenancy. In fact, many of our landlords have extended their leases beyond the first 2 years as they are happy with their tenants and like the guaranteed income. The aim of the charity and local authorities is for the refugee family to have progressed to a level of independence where they can support themselves and feel part of their community.
What happens with maintenance of the property while the family is living there?
The process is the same as if you were renting the property out privately. You may choose to manage the property yourself, so organising any maintenance and repair work through your chosen contractors, or you may prefer to engage a letting management agency for a monthly fee. The RRN can also offer support and guidance through our Resettlement Team. As outlined above, as a benefit to landlords who rent their properties for a refugee family via the RRN, the RRN pays for any on-going maintenance needed during the first two years up to a value of £250 for each instance it’s required. This support can be called upon up to 3 times during this time (ie up to £750 in total). While the family would be responsible for maintaining a property in good decorative condition, as tenants of the property, should any help be needed, again the RRN can help out in this way.
What support will the family have when they are here?
When the family arrives, they will receive practical support through the local council, the supporting charity that provides official case workers (eg Two Saints for Hampshire) and our RRN Befriending/Community Team. This support takes the form of everything from a hot meal on arrival; welcome packs which introduce the family to the area and the property; helping to familiarise new arrivals with the local area; introducing them to their local communities and providing financial support when required. The landlord may also offer support if they wish and this can be discussed with RRN, the council and supporting charity; relevant training can be offered and landlords must be DBS checked if they are going to be working with RRN in addition to being a landlord.
If my circumstances change and I need my property back before the end of the agreed term, how do we go about returning the property to me?
If you need the property back within 2 years of the family moving in, the RRN would again work with the council to find an alternative property. After 2 years, you may prefer to extend their lease, as many of our landlords are doing.
If you have formed a syndicate with others (see below), you would need to manage the withdrawal of your share with your colleagues, as set out in the Deed of Trust that you would have prepared before purchasing the property.
I already own a property that I’d like to offer to the Rural Refugee Network. How do I go about this?
In the first instance, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org; we will then put you in touch with our Housing Team, who will contact you for further information.
I would like to invest in a property as sole owner, to then offer it to the RRN for a refugee family. How would I go about this?
Please contact us on email@example.com; we could then work with you to identify a property that would be suitable for a refugee family while ‘ticking the boxes’ for you as an investment opportunity, within your personal budget. We are able to accompany you to viewings but please note we are not surveyors, so you would still need to carry out all the usual surveys to ensure the property is sound before purchasing! You would also still be entirely responsible for any of the usual associated fees of solicitors and estate agents, as with any standard property purchase.
I have savings that I would like to invest in a property as a joint owner, to then offer it to the RRN; how would I go about this?
Investing in a property with other investors can be a great way of making your savings work harder, for a good return on investment. However, intertwining finances with others can be complex, so once you have formed your syndicate of fellow investors, it is vital to work with a conveyancing solicitor to draw up a very clear Deed Of Trust. This document would need to include detailing how much each person wishes to invest, how you would collectively manage the maintenance of the property (and associated costs) and, if an individual’s personal circumstances change, how they could withdraw their investment. Your syndicate can choose to receive the rent less any management and maintenance allowances or to simply receive their share of the property or sum invested back after a set period of two years or more. This and other financial arrangements will be up to the syndicate to agree. The RRN does not get involved in the legalities or finances of a property purchase, but can put you in touch with others who have successfully formed a syndicate and purchased a house for a refugee family.
When you have formed a syndicate and lined up a solicitor to prepare the Deed Of Trust, we would be happy to work with you to identify a suitable property, as above.
We are always looking for volunteers to join us, so if you are interested in fundraising for the charity, preparing houses or helping refugee families to settle in to their new environment, please do get in touch.
Every little bit of help is greatly appreciated.