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Migration to the UK and how it influences housing and local areas is a complex subject. This is complicated further because there is no clear, agreed-upon definition for a ‘migrant’. Generally, it is defined as someone who is foreign-born, and has resided in the UK for over a year. This includes people who migrate for reasons of work, family, study and asylum. Recent estimates state that 1 in 8 of the UK resident population is foreign-born whilst net migration (immigration minus emigration) was estimated at +248,000 for 2016.

There are three main housing tenures in the UK:

  • Social: comprising of Housing Association (10%) & Local Authority (7%).
  • Private Rental Sector: Includes rent-free and tied accommodation (20%).
  • Home Ownership: bought outright, mortgaged or via the shared-ownership scheme (63%).

Most new migrants (resident for under 5 years) are not eligible for social housing and data shows that over 90% of new lettings in social housing were made to UK nationals in the past few years. Most new migrants reside in the prive rented sector, which can include accommodation tied to their employment and houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs). However, as rights and resources can accumulate as length of residence increases, migrant groups tend to follow similar housing pathways to the UK-born population and own their own home.  

Housing demand is influenced by a number of complex factors, including population size, household structure, age of residents and the condition of the economy. Housing needs are also influenced by overall population size and changes in the structure of the population caused by both migration and “natural change” (births minus deaths). Migration accounts for around a third of projected household growth. Even if migration were to be stopped completely, the gap between housing supply and demand means that construction would still fall short of what is required for the UK population.

Studies from neighbourhoods in the UK indicate that the relationship between immigration, social cohesion and integration are influenced, in part, by factors such as deprivation and impoverishment of an area, ethnic segregation and existing diversity. These issues become more acute when communities face a shortage of accommodation and competition to access suitable housing increases. Meeting local housing demand across all groups is likely to be key to facilitating social cohesion whilst local areas should take the lead on community integration, called for by government policy.

Main Points:

  • Understanding the impact of migration on housing is difficult, in part due to different definitions and statistics on migrants. However, there is general consensus that any impacts are complex and indirect.
  • About 80% of foreign-born migrants who have been resident in the UK for less than 5 years live in the private rented sector, compared to about 20% of the UK-born population. Migrants with over a decade of residence tend to demonstrate similar levels of owner-occupation to the UK-born population.
  • About a fifth of migrants live in social rented accommodation, similar to the UK-born population. There is no evidence that social housing allocation favours migrants.
  • Increased housing demand impacts negatively on wellbeing, risk of destitution and homelessness. Research suggests it may also exacerbate tensions at the community level and hinder integration.


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Prof. Gillian Bentley. Department of Anthropology, Durham University*
  • Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG)*
  • Home Office*
  • John Perry. Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH)*
  • Heather Petch, OBE. The Barrow Cadbury Trust*
  • Prof. Deborah Phillips. School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford*
  • Sue Lukes. MigrationWork CIC & Arhag Housing Association*
  • Prof. Alan Manning. London School of Economics
  • Prof. Alex Marsh. The Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research, University of Bristol*
  • Migration Statistics Unit, Office for National Statistics (ONS)*
  • Prof. David Robinson. Department of Geography, University of Sheffield
  • Jill Rutter. British Futures
  • Dr. Filipa Sa. Kings College, London*
  • Heather Spur. Shelter*
  • Dr. Emma Stone. Joseph Rowntree Foundation & Housing Trust (JRF)
  • Andrew van Doorn. Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT)
  • Dr. Carlos Vargas-Silva. Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford*
  • Emeritus Prof. Christine Whitehead, OBE. Housing Economics, London School of Economics & Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, University of Cambridge*
  • Prof. William Yule. Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, Kings College London & Children and War Foundation*

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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