West Suffolk looming housing crisis for Ukrainian
Whatley Lane Estate Agents shine a spotlight on the escalating cost of living housing crisis potentially facing Ukrainian refugees in West Suffolk and demonstrate ways businesses can do more to provide support. The problem is two-fold: barriers to employment exist combined with the ticking time bomb of homelessness. Alternative housing options are unclear against a backdrop of excessive upfront rental costs and higher monthly price levels. It is fuelled by a stock starved lettings market due to high tenancy renewal rates and reduced new landlord instructions.
The UK government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine Scheme’ has so far been heralded a success, as has the sponsor programme Ukraine Family Scheme. Both succeeded to provide clear pathways to visas for Ukrainian refugees. However the six month initial tenor of the Homes for Ukraine scheme draws to a close on 18th September 2022.
While the UK government has confirmed the current £350 per month housing allowance awarded to hosts can continue for up to 12 months, the extension by hosts remains uncertain. Many households are grappling with inflation induced financial strain due to the cost of living crisis gripping the country. Consequently UK host families may have limited means to provide continued support. This ultimately could lead to a real risk of homelessness for tens of thousands of Ukrainians.
Almost half at risk of homelessness
It is estimated that the number of Ukrainian refugees who have come to the UK via the government’s sponsor routes exceed 115,000. Barnardo’s children’s charity, has identified nearly half of that number could fall into the homeless at risk category by mid-2023. It follows a critical survey by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) of UK hosts. 19% report intending to provide accommodation for the initially agreed period. In the same survey less than one quarter (23%) intend to provide accommodation for longer than 12 months. According Suffolk Refugee Support agency almost 1,000 refugees are homed in Suffolk, which could pro rata affect 500.
Meanwhile the UK government predicts inflation to peak at 13.3% by end of the year and Chief UK economist at Citi, Benjamin Nabarro, anticipates headwinds as high as 18.6% occurring in January 2023. This, combined with winter approaching and energy price rises showing no signs of slowing, gives a bleak and urgent outlook. With the Russian Ukraine conflict likely to be unresolved for some time, instead of further government intervention, the private sector can step in to relieve pressure. By better enabling self-sufficiency for these displaced families and individuals through accessible employment opportunities, uncertainty can be removed.
Hope in uncertain economic times
Whatley Lane is pleased to announce the arrival of Kateryna Bogdaniuk (aka Kat). Newly appointed head of lettings and property management operating from the Bury St Edmunds office. Having been forced to flee Ukraine following the Russian invasion and leave behind her family property business in Kyiv, (learn about her inspiring story in the Suffolk News!), her arrival has brought with her an advanced skillset. Kat has shown new ways to approach real estate property management and investment that has already enhanced Whatley Lane’s client offering. While Whatley Lane help to establish a new life in West Suffolk for her and her family, which is one of permanence and certainty.
Whatley Lane encourage West Suffolk businesses, small or large, to step up assistance in the escalating Ukraine refugee housing crisis. The cultural exchange benefits are limitless and with job vacancies at an all-time high as recorded by the ONS (see Chart 1), a new pool of talent should be welcomed to shore up future growth in prosperity, especially in these uncertain economic times.
Employment barriers likely to face Ukrainian refugees in Suffolk
- In 2020, the Prince’s Responsible Business Network (BITC) in conjunction with YouGov (2020) found over one third of employers did not know if it is legal to hire refugees.
- A recent UK government follow-up survey of visa holders entering the UK under the Ukraine Humanitarian Schemes released by the ONS showed almost half (47%) of respondents experience barriers to being able to take up work in the UK (see Chart 2). The most common barrier is cited as English language skills not meeting requirements (58%). Followed by qualifications gained outside of the UK not being recognised by employers (43%). While the proportion of Ukrainian nationals employed in the UK has increased significantly to 42%, from 9% in April. Though UK businesses can still do more to remove such hurdles.
Strong lettings market fundamentals conspire against
The above statistics are compounded by the already challenged UK housing environment faced by Ukrainian refugees and acutely so in West Suffolk. Concerned about finding a home of their own without proof of UK employment history. The option of a guarantor is not always possible. So landlords and lettings agents can typically ask for six to twelve months rent payable upfront. In addition to a security deposit of up to five weeks’ rent, it is a huge outlay and a ‘vicious cycle’, as emphasised by the Guardian newspaper.
Moreover, record rent levels per month are being driven by a combination of factors. The industry governing body PropertyMark disclosed 73% of estate agents experienced more tenants renewing tenancies over the past 12 months. This supports the decline in lettings stock. The diminished level of available rental homes is further exacerbated by a reduction in new landlord instructions. Consequently rents are expected to continue to climb as reported by The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Both Whatley Lane offices in Newmarket and Bury St. Edmunds have noted an uplift in landlord requests for increased rents. Almost always to offset the cost of mortgages and other inflationary pressures. On the demand side of the equation the number of United States Air Force (USAF) tenant relocation movements has spiked over the last six months. This has served to create a swell in competing and stronger purchasing powers for a limited West Suffolk housing pool. Such factors conspire to make the likelihood of alternative housing accommodation for Ukrainian refugees at the Suffolk micro level alarming.
Words of optimism by Kateryna Bogdaniuk and James Sawyer
Kat Bogdaniuk of Whatley Lane comments: “working for Whatley Lane and in my current role is something I enjoy and have years of experience in. It has given my family the opportunity to stand on our own two feet without total reliance on the UK government to carve out a new future and on our own terms. This comes as monumental relief”.
James Sawyer of Whatley Lane comments: “the ongoing war in Ukraine from Russian aggression is harrowing to both watch and accept. One would have hoped that two World Wars and the Cold War would have all but stamped out such acts of atrocity. As an individual and a business owner I wanted to do something permanent to assist in the refugee crisis. The opportunity arose to recruit a new head of our lettings and property management at the Bury St Edmunds office. Our chance encounter with Kateryna through the town grapevine could not have been timelier”.
Whatley Lane Estate Agents are experts in United States Air Force (USAF) lettings and property management in West Suffolk. James continues: “Kat had a family property business back home in Kyiv handling lettings and highly skilled in digital marketing. Kat has since been able to put to good use her knowledge base to add instant value to our company. She has introduced to us new approaches and methods while we can help safeguard one family’s future. Especially important as they embark on a new chapter here in the UK that is likely for the long-term. If other West Suffolk businesses, no matter their size, can achieve the same, the Ukrainian refugee housing crisis and now coupled with the cost of living issues, will be well averted”.
Useful links for ways to help curb the Ukrainian refugee housing crisis:
Government advice for future employers
Suffolk Refugee Support