Fact Check

Elderly UK Couple Forced to Sell Home to Accommodate Asylum-Seekers?

Elon Musk tweeted, "In case you thought government trying to force home sales for 'asylum seekers' was a myth, this is already happening in Britain!"

Published April 3, 2024

 (John Keeble/Getty Images)
Image courtesy of John Keeble/Getty Images
In January 2024, authorities informed U.K. homeowners they would enforce the "compulsory selling" of homes to accommodate asylum-seekers.

The local council reportedly sent a letter to one elderly couple in the U.K., notifying them that they would have to sell their home by means of a Compulsory Purchase Order, to house asylum-seekers and refugees. However, Snopes' review of that letter found no mention of the forced sale of the home, contradicting multiple claims on social media.

Social media posts and news reports from outlets including the Daily Mail and The Telegraph in early 2024 spread claims that in January, elderly U.K. homeowners Jose and Ted Saunders received a letter from local authorities enforcing the "compulsory selling" of their home to house asylum-seekers. These claims sparked outrage and concern among the public, with several individuals and outlets sharing the couple's story. However, a closer examination of the situation reveals that these claims were false.

The story was circulated on X (formerly Twitter), along with clips posted from GB News referencing the story, where it quickly went viral. For instance, the X account Wall Street Silver posted, "Home owners in the UK have been told that 'compulsory selling of home' will be enforced to house illegal migrants … Elderly people are being told their houses are too big for them and they need to sell. This must be a joke." That tweet amassed 3.6 million views.

Elon Musk also shared the story on his X account, amassing 19.5 million views at the time of writing. Musk wrote, "In case you thought government trying to force home sales for 'asylum seekers' was a myth, this is already happening in Britain!" His tweet linked to the story published in the Daily Mail.

(Elon Musk/X)

While the Saunderses, both in their late 70s, did receive a letter concerning their property from the North Northamptonshire Council, it did not mention "compulsory selling." The claims of "compulsory purchase orders" also are misleading, as there is no evidence to support this. Statements from the North Northamptonshire Council indicate that the letter was part of wider efforts to address housing issues and clean up the community through voluntary means.

According to the Daily Mail, Jose and Ted Saunders received a "strongly-worded letter" from their local council, as transcribed below:

We are writing as have reason to believe that the above-named premises or land is empty or unused and that you are the owner. We would like to take this opportunity to find out what your intentions are for the premises or sites. It may be that you already have proposals, but if not, we can give you some advice on options available to you to bring the premises/site back into use.

The Government has identified empty privately owned properties as a potential cause of blight within communities, and as a wasted resource at time of high housing need. It is setting targets for Local Authorities and is requiring action by them to reduce this problem.

As part of this process North Northamptonshire Council is identifying empty properties and sites within the area, with the aim of encouraging owners to bring premises back into use or to find alternative options for derelict sites.

The Resettlement Team at North Northamptonshire Council supports asylum seekers and refugees across three different projects: Homes for Ukraine, Afghan Resettlement and Asylum Dispersal. At present, we are seeing a considerable increase in positive immigration decisions being made in favor of asylum seekers, mainly single men. Once they are granted refugee status, they are given only 28 days to leave their Home Office provided accommodation and to apply for benefits, find work, and source move on accommodation. Due to the limited timeframe and increases to private rents, the council is struggling to source suitable accommodation for this cohort. The ideal long-term solution would be to provide accommodation by using empty properties which would benefit owners and the project.

There are other ways in which we might be able to help/advise and work with owners to bring their properties ack into use by informal means.

However, there are a range of measures available to the Council to require owners of empty properties to carry out repairs to prevent them causing a nuisance to neighboring premises and/or to take action to bring them back into use.

While the letter acknowledged the council's need to accommodate asylum-seekers and refugees, it did not mention compulsory selling or forced sale of the Saunderses' home.

Per The Telegraph, a member of the local council in North Northamptonshire explained that "in terms of trying to acquire more social housing, councils will adopt a variety of measures, one of them being identifying empty properties that they can bring back into use."

The Saunderses, who moved into their Rushden home, about 14 miles northeast of Northampton, in November 2023, were interviewed by several U.K. media outlets. 

In a clip that was recirculated by the X account Concerned Citizen, Jose Saunders told one interviewer, "That letter says that because the property is derelict, that they can compulsory purchase it. If there's any repairs to be done in it, they could take it off the price of the property. And these properties are for migrants.

"It was an awful shock, and when I got that [letter], I felt sick," she continued. "We went down to the council the day we got that letter after we read it. And the lady in there, she said, 'Don't worry about it. It's just a standard letter.'"

While the home Ted Saunders said he purchased in 2023 for £200,000 was not "derelict," as the council letter suggested, a representative for the local council, as reported by the Daily Mail, clarified that the letter was not intended to mandate the sale of the couple's home. Councilman Jason Smithers said in a statement to the outlet:

North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) is working with owners of long-term empty properties to bring their property back into use. 

Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) are not utilised to "oust" current owners from their properties, they are a tool used as a very last resort to bring empty properties, which are a valuable and much need housing resource, back into use.

The "empty property initiative letters" were sent out in a bid to assist empty property owners to bring their property back into use, and on the whole, the support from NNC was gratefully received. Since NNC formed in 2021, no properties have been purchased by CPO. This is a mechanism of last resort to bring problematic, long term empty properties back into use.

Unfortunately, in this case, records held by NNC were outdated, and the letter was incorrectly sent to a property which was occupied. For this I am very sorry for causing any undue distress and worry.

The claim that elderly U.K. homeowners Jose and Ted Saunders were informed by local authorities that they must sell their home to accommodate illegal migrants is false. The letter they received from the council did not mention compulsory selling, and there is no evidence to support claims of compulsory purchase orders or forced sale being issued. Furthermore, claims circulating on social media about a "compulsory purchase order" being issued to the couple are also unfounded. The letter appears to be part of efforts by the local council to address housing issues through voluntary means rather than coercion. 


Councillor Details - Councillor Jason Smithers. 3 Apr. 2024, https://www.northnorthants.gov.uk/.

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Nikki Dobrin is based in Los Angeles and has previously worked at The Walt Disney Company, as well as written and edited for People, USA Today and The Hill.