It found no evidence to support the perception that new migrants were getting priority over UK-born residents. Nor was there any evidence of abuse of the system, including "queue jumping" or providing false information.
The research shows that within UK-born and Foreign-Born communities the proportion of people living in social housing is similar at around one in six people. It also reveals that many more recent migrants, those who have arrived in the past five years, have bought their own homes (17%) than live in social housing (11%).
Most new migrants to the UK over the last five years, particularly from the newer European Union member states such as Poland, have been ineligible to claim entitlement to social housing as they do not meet the criteria set by national legislation.
Only new migrants who are a European Economic Area worker, have been given "settled" or "refugee" status by the Home Office, or have leave to remain in the UK, are eligible for social housing.
Despite the evidence, the public has a different perception of who gets priority for social housing.
Focus group discussions held as part of the project exposed widely-held fears that the allocation process puts white British families at a disadvantage and that migrants are "cheating the system". This myth is often at the core of discriminatory behaviour and contributes to tension and violence in many areas.
The report identifies a number of factors which could be contributing to these perceptions, including:
* The belief that privately-owned flats in blocks which were previously social housing are still "owned by the council";
* New developments often include social housing as well as privately-owned accommodation with little visual difference between the two;
* The Borders Agency is using empty social housing to accommodate asylum seekers temporarily, which may be fuelling the idea that they are "queue jumping";
* Some ex-local authority, mixed-tenure housing association and key-worker homes have high numbers of residents from particular ethnic groups – for example hospital and care home workers;
* Clusters of people of the same background living in a neighbourhood may serve to entrench beliefs about unfair advantages.
The reduction in the social housing stock as existing tenants exercise their right to buy; fewer new builds over the last few decades and the increase in the number of households in the UK, caused by greater life-expectancy, marital breakdown and to a lesser extent, immigration have all led to increased demand for social housing.
The report recommends that public concerns about the effects of migration on housing should be addressed by policy makers at a local level.
It also suggests that more needs to be done to increase people’s understanding of entitlement to social housing, as the lack of transparency in the process may perpetuate the belief that the system itself is unfair.
Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Commission, said: "We have to recognise that people’s perceptions are powerful, so it’s vital that social housing providers and policy makers work to foster understanding about what is really happening on the ground. Much of the public concern about the impact of migration on social housing has, at its heart, the failure of social housing supply to meet the demands of the population.
"The poorer the area, the longer the waiting lists, therefore the greater the tension. Government and social housing providers need to work with the communities they serve to address these issues."
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