Afghan refugees ‘getting knockback after knockback in property searches’

Afghan refugees have been getting "knockback after knockback" in property searches, according to a volunteer helping with their efforts to find places to live in the UK (Yui Mok/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Afghans trying to find accommodation two years after fleeing to the UK for safety have been getting “knockback after knockback” in their property searches, according to a volunteer who is helping those being evicted from hotels.

RAF veteran Matt Simmons, who set up the community aid organisation Bridge to Unity in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021, described the “massive” difficulty in trying to find housing for people in the private rental sector.

The 42-year-old said even arranging a viewing for people is a “major hurdle – let alone then securing the property” as he told of making up to 30 phone calls a day to enquire about accommodation on behalf of people and getting just one or two viewings.

Hundreds are still stuck in Afghanistan more than two years on from the Taliban takeover Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Previous figures showed about 8,000 Afghans were still in hotels almost two years on from their evacuation to the UK, with updated numbers due to be published later this month.

In July, the Government confirmed Afghan refugees had been given their notice to leave hotels – known as bridging accommodation – by August 31 and were expected to find other places to stay.

Last week, the Local Government Association (LGA) said as many as a fifth of Afghan refugees in some parts of England who have been evicted from hotel accommodation had presented to councils as homeless.

Mr Simmons, who did three tours of Afghanistan, said there has been concern among people since they were given the deadline to move.

He told the PA news agency: “There’s definitely a lot of anxiety there and a lot of worry, and they’re (Afghans are) looking for people to turn to, to look for support. They’re asking themselves ‘why are landlords being so difficult?’.

“It’s hard, you haven’t really got an answer for them, other than ‘please don’t let your morale drop, keep pushing, keep phoning, you will find one, I promise you’.”

He described the efforts of Afghans and organisations helping them to find places to live, saying: “We didn’t actually comprehend how difficult it would be.”

He added: “We, as part of a coalition of charities, have been phoning round estate agents and landlords. Afghans in hotels – the English speakers – have been doing the same. And just getting knockback after knockback.”

He said he believes there are a number of issues making the situation difficult, including a general shortage of housing accompanied by high demand, plus a “pushback from landlords and agents”.

He said: “It’s probably a mix of both – a lack of housing and the amount of people going for any particular house in an area. Then, also, the pushback from landlords and agents as well, not really understanding Afghans and that they were evacuated by British forces, by the British Government, they’ve got a right to work, they’ve got indefinite leave to remain.”

He noted a “change in tone (from landlords or estate agents) as soon as you say you’re speaking on behalf of somebody from Afghanistan and they’re in a hotel”.

Mr Simmons, who is based in Hampshire, said Afghans who had supported Britain during the conflict there were owed support now in the UK and lamented a lack of on-the-ground resources in place and the slow nature of the help provided.

He said: “These people supported British forces. (They had to leave) Because of their links to the British, not being able to return to their country for fear of what might happen to them.

“I just think we owe it to people really. We owe it to these people to support them. I just wish there were better support networks in place and they could have been there (earlier).”

Matt Simmons said the Government has provided good financial help for Afghans but suggested more practical support is needed Credit: Matt Simmons/PA

He said while those with good English skills have been able to move into accommodation reasonably quickly due to being able to “negotiate the UK housing market and jobs market easier”, others with limited English have “been left behind a little bit”.

He praised Government financial help but suggested more practical help has been needed.

He said: “The offer from the Government is very, very generous, but unless you’ve got the support mechanisms in place, then it kind of all falls apart. Those support mechanisms start in the local authorities and in the hotel.”

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), said: “We condemn any instances of racial prejudice or discrimination wherever they may occur.

“Refugees, as with all renters, are facing the impact of a supply crisis in the rental market, with 20 requests to view each available home to let.”

The NRLA blamed “tax policies intended to reduce the number of available homes to rent” and called on ministers to “revisit these damaging policies if we are to stand any chance of meeting housing need”.

They added: “To compound matters, many of those Afghan households seeking alternative accommodation are being hit by the ongoing freeze on housing benefit rates.”

The Government has said it understands the difficulties in finding and securing a home in the private rental market but that it is “providing extensive support to help guests find their first settled home in the UK” through its Find Your Own Accommodation scheme which involves working with local councils who have been provided with £285 million of funding to support Afghans with their moves.