How to relocate employees to London: the ultimate guide for HR heroes

So, one of your employees is relocating to London soon, and they need your support. So much to organise, and it all rests on your shoulders. Where to start?

Fear not, we will give you a few pointers below, and a methodology which will give you the peace of mind that you haven’t forgotten anything.

1 – Define the assignee’s situation and timing

First things first, you need to assess the assignee’s personal and professional situation

  • Are they relocating on their own, with a partner/spouse, with children?

If they are relocating with children, check out our guide to relocating employees with children, for the specifics of family relocations.

  • The second thing you need to assess is the visa situation. Check out our article on troubleshooting immigration so you know where to start and what to do.

Having a valid visa for your employee is not only a necessity for permanent work, but also to rent in the UK! This might come as a surprise – read our article on whether employees can rent before they have a visa.

  • The third thing is timing -when are they starting their new job in London? Anything less than a month away will be challenging. If you have two months, that sounds better, and anything above 3 months will give you some leeway.

2 – Define the scope of the support you want to offer

The next thing you need to decide is how much support you want to provide your employee. Different businesses have different policies, or rules. There isn’t one solution for all – budget will be an important consideration, but not the only one (and we speak from experience).

We are slightly biased, but generally it is a good idea to provide some support so that:

  • Your employee feels valued. Let’s not forget that London is full of employment opportunities, so if you value your employee for certain skills, you probably won’t be the only business feeling like that about him/her! Showing some appreciation will help avoid this (although never completely).
  • If it is an exec, you don’t lose your job if things go bad (we have seen this happening, I am afraid)
  • Your employee doesn’t get bogged down with countless administrative tasks instead of working
  • You minimize the risk of your employee leaving the business because they are not feeling well in London - because his/her housing situation, or choice of neighbourhood, has proven to be the wrong one (we have also seen this).

Of course, relocation services have a cost, but this is minimal compared to having to replace a valued member of staff who, surely, has specific competences and/or experience which you value highly, otherwise you would not have started the effort of relocating her or him. Our article on why relocations don’t have to break the bank could put your mind (and budget!) at ease.

The support you can provide to your employee can cover:

  • Orientation / decision tour
  • Home search
  • School search
  • Removal
  • Settling-in assistance
  • Tax advice
  • Language courses
  • Cultural coaching

Check out our case study on how we helped a reluctant employee make a final decision in favour of relocating to London, by using an orientation tour. This can be a wise investment for your key people!

In general, we recommend, as a minimum, to help out with the home search and removal, which is the basics of someone’s relocation to London. This will also include some expert advice on choosing the right London neighbourhood for the lifestyle and budget of the assignee. Landing (and living) in the wrong area can male someone dislike even the most beautiful city in the world (which London is of course!)

Check out our article on the 5 pitfalls assignees should avoid when relocating to London, so they don’t end up making the wrong choices.

Whichever level of support you choose, you will have to decide on a few things before going back to your assignee:

  • Will your business pay service providers directly, or are you asking the assignee to do their own choices and payments against a lump sum? This article will help you to find out whether lump sums are a good fit for your business.
  • Will your assignee pay his/her rent directly, or will the business be the tenant for the rental property? Check out our comparison guide between corporate and private lets. There isn’t one solution for all businesses, so make sure you have thought about the implications, in particular for corporate lets, which are less popular than they used to be.

3 – Find a relocation provider

Once you have defined all the above: first and foremost, congratulate yourself!

You have got your relocation path set out, and now just need to execute it.

If your assignees are receiving a lump sum, and are making their own decisions, you might want to point them in the right direction. A good start could be for them to check out the website of the UK relocation professionals, to select providers (needless to say we are in there!). They can also search on Google, and speak with different businesses to see which one is the best fit.

One word of warning about lump sums: we hear a lot of horror stories about employees deciding to spend their lump sum on other things than relocation support/removal support, with things going downhill and businesses having to step in at some point (with more money!). One way to counteract that challenge is to require a proof of payment or invoice from the assignee.

If you are providing support directly, you will now start to look for providers for the relocation and removal services yourself.

Here are a few pointers on how to select a good relocation provider:

  1. Check their credentials: trade bodies memberships, industry awards
  2. Check their references: who do they currently work with – ask to speak with clients/assignees (the reaction to that request will already say a lot about the provider!).
  3. Check how long they have been operating for (the longer doesn’t mean the better, but a short existence doesn’t show a lot of experience). Is the business used to dealing with corporate employees, and especially top execs?
  4. Compare their pricing, but keep an eye on what is included: some providers might look very cheap, but if they are only showing 3 properties to your assignee, or not helping out with the rental process, it probably ends up being a high price you are paying for not much service.
  5. Another question is whether the housing search service cost is related to the rental budget (example: home search priced at one month's rent) – we definitely think it shouldn’t be, as there isn’t more work when clients have larger rental budgets - in fact often quite the contrary!

4 – Find a removal provider

Assuming you are covering the cost of your assignee’s removal, you will have to find a provider for that. There are 3 types of solutions:

  1. A stand-alone removal provider. Check out our guide on selecting a removal provider.
  2. A provider combining removal and relocation: this is not our preference, as the competences needed are very different, so you will end up working with two very different teams anyway within the same business. Also this means that you will not have a choice of removal providers, and therefore just one price choice.
  3. A relocation provider working in partnership with a removal provider and coordinating everything: this is the most comfortable option for yourselves and the assignee, as everything is coordinated under one roof. It could also end up saving you money, as the relocation provider will obtain several price quotations, enabling you to compare different price levels potentially (and saving you the hassle of doing it!)

5 – Let the providers do the work… but keep an eye on it!

You have now selected your provider(s) – good job! We will assume you will have sorted out the paperwork and payment terms with them.

The next step is to introduce them to your assignee – an email introduction suffices usually, and they can take it from there. We also strongly recommend that you do present the scope of the services precisely to the assignee, so they know what they are entitled to. This will avoid any misunderstandings later on with the providers.

Ask the providers to keep you updated on a regular basis until completion, so you know what is going on, and can answer any questions from your managers/directors/execs at all times about the status of the relocation.

If it is a sensitive relocation (like a top exec), you could plan to have a weekly update by email or phone, or just be copied in all exchanges (not sure this is always the best option, but we sometimes do it). We personally like to update the HR Managers / Directors we work with at the key stages of the home search: initial briefing completed, scheduled date for the viewings, result of the viewings, offer accepted, scheduled move-in date, and completed move. This can be done via a technological platform, or via email.

Another good thing can be to ask the assignee on a regular basis how things are going from his / her perspective, so this enables you to pick up potential issues / challenges early on, rather than after everything has been completed. This will also show your interest for the person, which will reflect positively on yourself and the business.

Once the relocation has been completed, you can congratulate yourself – you are now an HR relocation hero! Next time another employee relocates to London, you will be ready to go in no time, having been through all the hurdles already.

Relocating employees to London might seem daunting, but it can be gratifying if everything goes well for your employee, which will inevitably reflect positively on you.

Good luck with your next employee move to London!

Download the Guide to relocating employees to London now!

Immigration, Compensation, Tax & Payroll, Relocation, Schooling: all the important topics to think about when relocating employees to London - all in one compact document.