Moving on from hosts: our guide for refugees from Ukraine

This document is an overview guide for refugees from Ukraine who have been hosted by families in Richmond, and are now looking to move into their own accommodation. 

Please send any feedback or suggested improvements that could help you or others to Hirsh Cashdan.

The private rental market

The current market is extremely competitive, with fewer properties available because of changes to the law affecting landlords, and large numbers of people returning to London after the pandemic. Properties are often snapped up instantly. Agents are receiving multiple offers above asking price, or offering up to one year’s rent in advance. Be prepared to phone dozens of agents, be flexible about area and type of accommodation, and respond immediately when a property comes up.

What type of property?

Adults without children may find it easier to look for a room in a property with other individuals who share a kitchen and bathroom, or to link up with other Ukrainians and find a flat together. Adults with children may similarly benefit from looking for a property with another family in the same situation. For help matching with another person or family, contact Hirsh Cashdan.

Which area?

Richmond is one of the more expensive boroughs in London. As well as looking in Richmond, bear in mind neighbouring boroughs like Hounslow and Kingston which are cheaper and can still be within reach of Richmond schools – and there are excellent schools in all boroughs.

If you are looking to settle long term in the UK, it might well be worth considering a cheaper borough or city where it would be more affordable to build a new life. Note:  You will get help from Richmond Council irrespective of where you move to.

Finding agents

Spare Room advertises rooms across London. It specialises in flatshare, but sometimes offers whole properties, and you can filter for these. It usually connects you directly to a landlord, rather than an agent. Roomster is similar.

Rightmove and Zoopla connect to all the high street letting agents. Estate agent offices are on every high street, and you can ask them to let you know if a property comes up in their area.

The agent’s fees are paid by the landlords, so agents are motivated to find long-term tenants with secure employment who can afford high rents. Some may be discouraging to people on benefits if they do not have affordable properties on their books, but there are landlords and agents who are very sympathetic to the situation of Ukrainian refugees. However, you do need to persist to find them. One agent told RWinR that 1 in 10 of their landlords are open to letting to people on benefits.

How to approach the agent

This is not a market for haggling. Good properties will be gone within hours. So go in with your best offer, during the viewing if possible, as there is unlikely to be a second chance.

Approach each contact as a job interview. Dress to impress. If possible enlist support from your host or an English-speaking friend. Show real enthusiasm about the property and avoid making any negative comments about it (if there is a problem affecting habitability, like a patch of damp or broken window, ask for this to be repaired as part of your offer). You want the agent to recommend you to the landlord as someone who would be an ideal tenant i.e. not demanding or difficult.

Think ahead what makes you a good tenant – you need to sell yourself to the agent. For example, compared with people who need to give notice on their current tenancy, you probably have the huge benefit of flexibility as regards start date. It can be very motivating to landlords if you can move in as soon as the property is available, so they don’t have a gap with no rent being paid, or if you can wait a while so they don’t have the stress of finding a tenant just before it becomes free. If you can offer anything at all over the asking price, or could pay 2 or 3 or 6 months in advance, or could volunteer to paint or improve the property, make sure the agent knows.

Pre-empt possible concerns. If you suspect the agent thinks you may disappear back to Ukraine (some people have found this), then tell the agent exactly why you plan to remain for the whole tenancy (eg. because you have found work, children in school, intend to stay permanently in the UK).

The agent usually has some idea what their client wants. So why not ask them: do they think the landlord will choose on the basis of offers above asking price, a quick start date, a later start date, rent paid in advance, a certain type of person, a short or long tenancy… you might be able to adapt your offer accordingly.

Rent and Upfront Costs and Help you can obtain

If you are on a low income or Universal Credit you are eligible for Local Housing Allowance benefit. LHA rates vary by area and size of property, and are given on Council websites:

If necessary, the Council might be able to help with upfront costs. These include a deposit (equal to 5 weeks rent) which is returnable when you leave (subject to deduction for any damage during your tenancy) and six week’s rent in advance. You might need to pay a ‘holding deposit’ to reserve the property until you sign the contract, but this will then be deducted from the first month’s rent.

More information and advice on rental costs and the benefits you may be able to claim is available from Citizens Advice.

Agents usually require a guarantor – somebody who trusts you and knows your circumstances and who will be legally liable to pay your rent if for any reason you are unable to do so. For a complete property, the guarantor must be able to demonstrate income of 36 times the monthly rent to the reference agency used by all the agents.  A fuller explanation of guarantor requirements is available from Citizens Advice.

The Council may act as guarantor if you don’t have one, though be aware that some agents prefer a private guarantor, perhaps because they fear it would be more difficult to get redress from a Council. If you find this is the case, it is worth highlighting that rent through housing benefit is 100% reliable, and if preferred it is possible to tick a box on the housing benefit application form to ask for the housing benefit to be paid directly to your landlord rather than to yourself.   If you are seeking help from the council do notify them of any property you are interested in before signing an agreement.

Important Safety Tips

  • Rightmove and Zoopla are legitimate sites. Be cautious if you find a property elsewhere that looks too good to be true; it will probably be a scam.
  • Beware of anyone who asks you to pay to view a property, or to pay anything more than the upfront payments listed above.
  • If you view a property alone, make sure a friend knows where, when and who you are meeting.
  • Landlords must by law make the annual safety gas and electricity safety check certificates for their property available to tenants, so make sure you ask to see them before signing the contract.
  • If your English is not fluent, ask your host or an English-speaking friend to check the contract (tenancy agreement) before you sign it.
  • On the day you move in, take photos of any problems or damage so that the landlord does not hold you responsible at the end of the tenancy, and deduct the cost of repairs from your deposit.

If you are facing homelessness or problems with a tenancy

Richmond Council has a legal duty to provide temporary accommodation if you need to move from your host’s accommodation and are facing homelessness: contact

Citizens Advice Richmond offers qualified expert advice about private tenancies, homelessness, and all aspects of life in the UK: 

Further resources 

Much information including this document in both English and Ukrainian is available on the Refugees Welcome in Richmond website.

Richmond Council has produced a detailed guide to searching for rented accommodation.

The government has also produced detailed information on how to rent including specific guidance for Ukrainian refugees in English and Ukrainian.