Many Hongkongers moving to the UK are hitting a brick wall while trying to find accommodation, a new report reveals.
The report, launched on Monday, said that landlords in the UK are reluctant to let their properties to BN(O) visa applicants from Hong Kong, the vast majority of whom do not have jobs, rental references, or bank accounts in the UK. The lack of government guidance is also a contributing factor.
Without a permanent address in the UK, new arrivals are also confronted with other difficulties, including opening bank accounts and finding schools for their children.
The UK government in January opened a new visa scheme designed to offer holders of British National (Overseas) status in Hong Kong a path to citizenship at a time when freedom and human rights in the former British colony are under unprecedented threat from the Chinese regime.
The BN(O) visa applicants need to support themselves independently while living in the UK, but they do not need to find a job before arriving.
The new report was the result of a one-week survey led by Hongkongers in Britain (HKB), with the help of the Hong Kong Assistance and Resettlement Community, and Hackney Chinese Community Services.
The three organizations are a part of a coordinated civil society initiative named the “Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers,” which was enlisted by the government to collect information needed to help BN(O) visa applicants with their housing needs.
During the last week of March, HKB invited its 15,000 social media followers to share their concerns on housing if they were planning or had recently arrived in the UK, between 220–230 people replied to the invitation.
According to an HKB report published in December last year, 73 percent of Hongkongers planning to move to the UK considered accommodation their top concern.
“It’s also one of the most urgent issues for new arrivals because it also has knock-on effects on other aspects of people’s lives, including opening bank accounts and looking for employment and schools,” Julian Chan, co-founder of HKB said on Monday during a virtual press conference.
Lack of Documents
The survey found that most new arrivals would check into hotels or AirBnBs for a few weeks upon arrival, and then seek to rent from private landlords. A small portion of the respondents said they rented/would rent a property before arriving in the UK.
BN(O) visa applicants often have neither employment upon arrival, nor previous UK rental history, credit history, or UK bank accounts—documents most landlords would require.
Therefore, some said they found it very difficult to find a place to rent even if they had been willing to pay a higher deposit.
Another difficulty for those checked into hotels or AirBnBs is that they do not have a current permanent address that’s required when signing the tenancy agreements.
“Some families, especially those with children, face additional hurdles in finding suitable types of accommodation in the UK immediately upon their arrival, due to the law requiring children over the age of 10 of the opposite sex, or 15 of the same sex, to have their own rooms,” the report added.
Landlords Lack Understanding Of BN(O) Visa
Immigration status is also a problem for some new arrivals. According to British law, landlords are responsible for checking their tenents’ right to rent.
Chan said that many landlords lack an understanding of the BN(O) visa.
“We’ve been hearing about incidents of landlords refusing to rent for fear of potentially breaching the right to rent legislation,” he said.
According to the new policy, BN(O) citizens can apply for two periods of 30 months leave or 5 years leave, with a path to citizenship also available.
The government encouraged prospective applicants to apply and travel to the UK after the visa scheme became fully operational in January. But those who traveled before the opening of the scheme could be granted a Leave Outside the Rules (LOTR) for a period of six months before they apply for the new visa scheme.
Renting has been more difficult for these individuals because they only had up to six months’ right to rent at the time, while most landlords offer contracts with a minimum term of one year.
The groups recommended the UK government update its current guidance for landlords to include current BN(O) passports as having the “right to rent,” and hold seminars for landlords and property agents to raise awareness on the circumstances of LOTR and/or BN(O)s, and the incoming influx of people from Hong Kong.
The recommendations also include providing temporary accommodation for applicants to rent upon arrival until they find long-term solutions, encouraging banks, schools, and property agencies to accept temporary addresses and overseas income records and bank statements.
Alexander Zhang contributed to this report.