Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Lure Britannia

The UK, particularly London, has long been the most popular destination for Irish emigrants. But how easy is it to get your paws on a ‘cat and mouse’ there, asks CIARA KENNY

Thu, Sep 6, 2012, 08:58


The UK, particularly London, has long been the most popular destination for Irish emigrants. But how easy is it to get your paws on a ‘cat and mouse’ there, asks CIARA KENNY

Waterloo sunset: New arrivals in the capital need to be prepared for higher rents and start-up costs than at home

AS IRELAND’S closest neighbour, Britain has long been the most popular destination for Irish emigrants. With more than one thousand Irish nationals registering to work there every month, migration across the pond continues apace, but Irish people need to be prepared for higher rents and start-up costs than they are used to in Ireland, especially if planning to settle in the capital.

With the exception of a sharp fall and subsequent rise between 2008 and 2009, property prices across the UK have remained relatively static for the past five years. Of the 54,000 homes sold in England and Wales in May this year, the average sum paid was £161,677 (€205,836) just 0.4 per cent more than the same month in 2011.

London is the exception, with prices up 7.7 per cent in the past year to an average of £365,359 (€465,135). Properties at the luxury end of the market in the central areas of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea have seen their value increase by almost 50 per cent in the last three years alone.

Outside London, the southeast is the most expensive region in England, with average prices of £267,000 (€339,915). The northeast is the cheapest, with prices averaging £99,492 (€126,665) in May.

Although prices have remained steady, sales volumes across England and Wales have halved since the peak in 2006-2007. This has increased competition for good quality rental properties, which are most in demand by young professionals moving from Ireland.

“The majority of people who are moving out here would be renting,” says Jennie McShannon, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Societies. “People in their 20s and 30s will want to rent for a few years until they establish whether they want to stay in the long term, and older emigrants might be here to earn enough money to pay their mortgage in Ireland, so they wouldn’t be looking to buy either.”

This wave of emigration has also brought with it a new cohort of extreme commuters, husbands and wives who work in the UK Monday to Friday and travel back to Ireland for the weekend, McShannon says. The majority of them rent simple lodgings in a B&B, a small studio apartment or a room in a shared house to keep costs down.

London has always been a popular destination for Irish people, but previous generations would have dispersed themselves across a range of UK cities. The vast majority of this wave of young emigrants are settling in the capital.

“A number of young graduates are coming to Birmingham to work as nurses, occupational therapists and lawyers, and Manchester is also popular,” says McShannon.

“Scotland attracts a lot of students, as education is cheaper there than in the rest of the UK, but on the whole the majority of Irish who are moving out here are coming to London.”

A survey carried out by the London Irish Centre in Camden found that, although recent Irish arrivals to the capital found the house hunting system – through estate agents and online – comparable to Ireland, the high cost of rented accommodation, the level of competition and the difference in price from one area of London to another came as a surprise to many.

Rents in the Greater London area have increased by 5.4 per cent in the past 12 months and averaged £1,187 (€1,511) in May, according to the HomeLet rental index. The cost of renting is now 82 per cent more expensive than in the rest of the UK (prices outside London average £653 per month), the highest difference ever seen.

Cover of the Moving to London guide by the London Irish Centre (click to download full booklet)

Jeff Moore, director of welfare at the London Irish Centre, advises Irish people to narrow down the areas where they might want to live before beginning to hunt for a flat. “London is a huge city, and it is impossible to search everywhere,” he says.

“There are large differences in price between different areas, which will be the biggest determining factor for most people. Rates in central London can be up to twice those of outer boroughs and, in general, there is better value to be found in the south of the city than the north.”

The Irish population in London is more scattered than it once was, but recent migrants are still gravitating towards traditional Irish areas when they move over first, including Brent, Camden and Islington, according to Moore.

“Clapham has become the most popular area with young Irish professionals. It has plenty of amenities, is close to the centre of the city, and most of the accommodation is in old Georgian houses so it is an attractive area too,” he says. “But we are starting to hear people saying they don’t want to move there now because there are too many Irish.”

The market is extremely competitive across London and good quality properties are snapped up quickly. Prospective tenants need to act fast if they are interested in a place, and be ready to provide a deposit and paperwork immediately after viewing in order to secure a lease.

UK landlords and agencies usually ask for references from a previous landlord and an employer. They may also require a letter from the leaseholder’s bank – to ensure any mortgage repayments or loans are being made on time – and for a rent guarantor.

According to Moore, non-nationals are often asked for evidence of employment or referees and guarantors living in the UK, which can cause problems for recent arrivals who may not know many people or have a job lined up yet.

“We would suggest people come loaded with as much back-up information as possible,” he says. “If they have enough supporting documentation to prove they have the means to pay the rent and will be a responsible tenant, that should be enough. These documents can all be prepared before they leave Ireland.”

Tenants are usually required to pay a month’s rent as a deposit. The landlord must issue a receipt, and lodge the deposit with the government-authorised tenancy deposit scheme within two weeks of payment. If a dispute arises over the refunding of the deposit when the tenant vacates the property, they can put their case to the agency overseeing the scheme.

Letting agents can help find a property to suit your needs, but most will charge an administration fee equivalent to a week’s rent. Some levy the landlord rather than the tenant, so be sure to ask when making initial inquiries. Letting agents may also charge an administration fee for collecting rent and organising or renewing tenancy agreements. If the tenant is liable for these costs, ask for an estimate in writing before signing the lease or paying a deposit.

The biggest expense in addition to rent is council tax, which must be paid by all homeowners and tenants residing in all areas of the UK. Rates vary from area to area, but average around £1,200 (€1,527) per dwelling. See the Valuation Office Agency website for a breakdown of rates payable in each council area. Some tenancies will include council tax in the rent, but in most instances, tenants are responsible for paying it themselves on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.

For families, the location of the preferred school will be an important factor in determining where to live, especially in London. Schools have very tight catchment areas, with the general rule being the better the area the better the school, according to McShannon.

“There can be three good schools clustered in a two mile radius, but the catchment area for each might be so small that you could be living in the middle of those three schools and not get a place,” she says. “In order to access the school you have to have evidence of utility bills, not just an address, so it can be difficult to book your child in before you have found a home.”

Crime levels can also be an important consideration. The website gives a detailed breakdown of crime rates in different areas by postcode across England and Wales.

“As the UK is only a short flight away, the vast majority of those who are planning to move here, whether they be young and single or with a family, can take recce trips to sort things like accommodation in advance,” says McShannon. “Failing that, there are so many other Irish here that they are bound to know someone who will lend them a couch till they get settled.”

The London Irish Centre has an excellent practical guide for Irish people moving to London, available to download from their website at


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A terraced house in Clarendon Road, London, in walk-in condition

Located on a quiet, tree-lined street, this four-bedroom terraced house near Wimbledon is in walk-in condition. The main reception room is bright, with two double-glazed sash windows, a spacious living area and space to dine. A modern bathroom and new wooden flooring have been installed, and the kitchen opens onto a 50sq m garden. There are several primary and secondary schools within walking distance. The A3 motorway is close by and the Collier’s Wood Underground station is 500m from the house, with direct trains to Waterloo.

Price : £499,950 (€633,000)

Council Tax : £1,410 (€1,785) per year

Agent : Foxtons Wimbledon;; tel: 0044-20-86052900

TO LET: St Matthew’s Road, Brixton

St Matthew's Road, London

The main reception room in this bright and spacious two-bedroom flat has a huge bay window and modern furnishings, and all rooms have original ornate cornicing and wooden flooring.

Central heating has been installed throughout.

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Price : £1,300 (€1,640) per month

Council Tax: £1,095 (€1,385) per year

Agent : Foxtons Streatham;; tel: 0044-20-81505400

Do you have any tips or suggestions for people moving to the UK, based on your own experience? Share them in the comments section below.