BTR well placed to help Ukraine crisis but guidance needed

As a sector we are well placed to provide support for Ukrainian refugees, but without Government clarity, our efforts to help those fleeing the war are somewhat hampered.

Co-working area at The Keel in Liverpool - Allsop | BTR News
Co-working area at The Keel in Liverpool.

Though the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme is still in its relative infancy, the British public has demonstrated extraordinary interest in taking part, offering up spare rooms to Ukrainian refugees. Indeed, refugees minister, Lord Harrington, recently commented, “The response of the British public has been incredible, opening their hearts and homes to the people of Ukraine, and we must do everything we can to make the most of this extraordinary generosity.”

By Lesley Roberts, Partner at Allsop

To that end, conversations within the Build to Rent sector around how operators and occupiers can support efforts to provide accommodation for Ukrainian refugees is gaining momentum. Allsop Letting and Management have had numerous requests from residents keen to understand what opportunities there are to offer up space to displaced Ukrainians. Likewise, other operators and organisations within the sector, such as the UKAA, are increasingly looking to understand more about how they can help those fleeing the terrible situation in Ukraine. And we’re all looking for answers as to how we can actually make that happen.

As a sector, we are well placed to provide support for Ukrainian refugees. The condition of Build to Rent properties fits well within the government’s health and safety requirements for accommodation offered via the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Build to Rent buildings meet strict regulatory and compliance standards for rental, so will tick every box on the government’s list.

What the government hasn’t provided yet is detail on the legislation surrounding occupation of refugees and what happens at the end of the stay.

A look at the government’s website for the Homes for Ukraine scheme reveals that it is prepared to make significant allowances for those willing to provide shelter to refugees. For instance, council tax discounts – such as the single person discount – will not be affected for those taking in refugees, despite a monthly £350 ‘thank you’ payment to all sponsors. The government is also urging landlords to make it easier for tenants to sponsor Ukrainian refugees, asking them to waive any permission fees in these specific cases. All these measures are to be applauded and provide guidance for owner occupiers who meet the criteria to be a host.

There is, however, still a raft of questions and scenarios unanswered for the Build to Rent/PRS sector, specifically in relation to the legislation for leasing and what happens when the scheme comes to an end. Professional landlords are in an advantageous situation to potentially offer accommodation but under what legal/legislative framework are they providing it? Is it an assured shorthold tenancy (AST)? In which case occupants need to comply with Right to Rent checks which refugees are unlikely to be able to meet. Is it a licence or a lease? In which case there has to be ‘consideration’ in order to make a contract valid, which is against the rules of the scheme. Is it a Lodger Agreement? Which is unlikely to apply where the property isn’t already occupied and conflicts with the six-month minimum term the scheme stipulates.

The Build to Rent industry can be fleet of foot in providing safe and secure homes, as well as wayfinding to support services for those seeking safety from the war in Ukraine. The unique qualities that characterise our new and thriving sector – comradery and a commitment to sharing ideas and best practice, not to mention accommodation – make the sector well placed within the real estate industry to provide targeted and impactful support if we have the detail we need to make decisions and act.  

The good news is that we are working to gather and share information, providing operators and residents with access to resources and organisations – such as real estate sharing platform Do Some Good that can assist those looking to offer shelter, space for English language classes, labour and so on. The disappointing news is that we can only provide limited support due to the lack of information on how existing leasing and occupation legislation applies or interacts with the scheme. Without clarity from the government, our efforts to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine are somewhat hampered.