Immigration fall may not impact on rental market as much as feared

by Gary Whittaker

There are many reasons why those migrating to the UK from overseas will choose renting over buying. 

In many cases, they will only be in the UK for a fixed period of time, such as on a contract or as students. Others will live in Britain when they are young, free and single to enjoy living in a different country before returning home to settle down into 'normal' life. Some, including many Europeans, might work in the UK during the week but have a home to go to back in their own country. Moreover, many EU citizens will be from countries where renting is the norm, such as Germany.

Is a Brexodus brewing '

However, these patterns may be among those most notably disrupted by Brexit, with signs that this is already happening.

Ever since the vote to leave the EU in June 2016, there have been plenty of anecdotes of EU citizens leaving, many saying they no longer felt welcome in the UK. Moreover, the data is increasingly backing this up.

The latest figures from the Home Office show net migration to the UK in the year to September 2017 was 244,000, 29,000 down on a year before. Moreover, 205,000 of these migrants came from outside the EU. 

A mixed picture

However, headlines proclaiming a "Brexodus" need to be taken with a pinch of salt. It is true that 130,000 EU nationals left the UK during the survey period - the largest number since 2008 -  but the fact remains that 220,000 entered. While it is the case that the latter figure was also down year-on-year by 47,000, and the net EU immigration total of 90,000 is therefore the lowest since 2012, it is still a net figure. Ultimately, that means more Europeans still seeking homes to rent.

Indeed, while the number of EU citizens coming to take up a job was down by 58,000, there was a rise of 35,000 in the number who crossed the Channel to look for work. The latter can be accounted for by Britain's current high employment rate, particularly compared to some of its neighbours. Unless that changes significantly, this factor in migrant numbers will persist. 

These considerations, plus the rise in non-EU immigration, may suggest that, for the time being at least, the impact of a Brexodus will be limited. 

Immigration will not end with Brexit

Of course, the issue of immigration was a factor for many voters and politicians who supported Brexit, and it may be that the number leaving will grow after March 2019. However, while the UK may set a significantly different immigration policy after leaving the EU, it is worth considering that many EU citizens currently living in the UK will now feel more certainty about the legal basis on which they can stay than was the case at first. 

Furthermore, immigration policy is hardly likely to lead to the drawbridge being pulled up, much as a few people on the extreme fringes might wish it so; the need for skilled workers in areas like health and construction will mean the UK is sure to continue seeking to recruit heavily from overseas. Moreover, it may be that travel will be made easier between the UK and Commonwealth countries such as Australia. 

These considerations, plus the rise in non-EU immigration, mean it is far from certain that future migration levels will be massively different. Significant net migration is likely to remain a reality unless - as in 2008 - future economic circumstances give some people from overseas a compelling reason to leave, in contrast with the current reasons to come.

As a result, landlords and agents who rent out much of their property portfolios to people from overseas might see a few differences in the level of demand and the countries of origin from which immigrants come. But the change might be somewhat less dramatic than some expect. 

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23-February-18General Lettings News