The government’s ‘right to rent’ scheme is being challenged in the courts on the basis that it is discriminatory and potentially racist because it has resulted in landlords favouring individuals and families with British passports.
The right to rent scheme, introduced in February 2016 under the Immigration Act 2014, requires all landlords in England to check whether new tenants have the right to the be in the UK before renting out their property.
Landlords who fail to check a potential tenant’s immigration status face penalties of up to £3,000 per tenant and prison sentences of up to five years. It is a key element of the Home Office’s controversial ‘hostile environment’ policy and critics argue it has forced landlords to become border guards.
Right to Rent Discriminates Against Foreign Nationals and Ethnic Minorities
Credit: Andrew Warran Flickr
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has brought the judicial review, arguing that right to rent is unlawful and discriminatory on the grounds of race or nationality. The charity’s legal challenge is supported by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Liberty.
Campaigners have highlighted that there are many reasons why people may not have the relevant documents to prove their ‘right to rent.’ These groups include victims of domestic abuse, people awaiting a Home Office decision, and people with a complex legal status that landlords struggle to understand such as entrepreneurs, students and sponsored employees.
The RLA, representing 50,000 landlords renting out 250,000 properties, has argued that right to rent means landlords ‘play it safe,’ leading to discrimination against foreign nationals and ethnic minorities.
It is a policy that clearly leads to discrimination against certain groups and needs to be brought to an end.
David Smith, Residential Landlords Association
David Smith, Policy Director for the RLA, said: “The right to rent is creating a hostile environment for those who are legitimately in the UK but may have documentation that is not easy to understand for landlords. It creates needless friction between landlords and tenants. Landlords cannot be blamed for taking a cautious approach as they are not immigration officers.
“It is a policy that clearly leads to discrimination against certain groups and needs to be brought to an end. Despite promises from the Home Office little progress has been made.”
This is extraordinarily intrusive red tape that conscripts landlords as border officials.
Chai Patel, Joint Council Welfare of Immigrants
Chai Patel, Legal and Policy Officer at JCWI, has noted how the right to rent checks led to British citizens caught up in the Windrush scandal being evicted from their homes and unable to rent in the private sector.
“Sajid Javid promised he would learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal, which left many thousands of legal immigrants to the UK destitute, detained, and even deported. But he is ignoring our evidence that requiring landlords to check immigration status does not work and causes exactly the kinds of problems that the Windrush generation faced.”
The JCWI has also criticised the Home Secretary for failing to monitor or evaluate the impact of the right to rent policy. “Not only is he ignoring our evidence, he is fighting us in court to stop the Home Office from being required to do its own evaluation into whether the scheme is harming ethnic minorities and foreign nationals with every right to rent property.
“He is ignoring the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration recommendations to do the same. This is extraordinarily intrusive red tape that conscripts landlords as border officials on pain of imprisonment, and Sajid Javid won’t even check that it’s working as planned. He has clearly learnt nothing from Theresa May’s mistakes.”
In fact, the Home Office is fighting JCWI at the High Court right now, spending ££ to avoid reviewing Right to Rent despite much evidence that it causes discrimination & Chief Insp of Borders & Immigration recommending a review. Demonstrably NOT learning the lessons of Windrush https://t.co/QbQwICZjTy
— JCWI (@JCWI_UK) December 19, 2018
44 Percent of Landlords Unlikely to Rent to Tenants Without a British Passport
A recent report from the Residential Landlords Association, ‘The Right To Rent Scheme and The Impact On The Private Sector,’ has found 44 percent of landlords are less likely to consider letting to individuals without a British passport.
This means millions of people are potentially facing discrimination in renting, as the 2011 Census showed that 17 percent of the population in England and Wales – 9.5 million people – do not have a passport.
9.5 million people in England and Wales do not have a passport.
Office for National Statistics
The research, which surveyed nearly 2500 landlords, also found that 53 percent of landlords are less likely to consider letting to people with limited time to remain in the UK, and 20 percent are less likely to consider renting to EU or EEA nationals.
The RLA points out that both tenants and landlords are facing confusion and uncertainty over right to rent checks following a no-deal Brexit. David Smith, Policy Director for the RLA, commented: “The government has so far failed to provide any single document providing clear advice to landlords about the rights of EU nationals to rent property in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It is leaving many with a sense of frustration as they do not know if they should renew tenancies and create new ones.”
There are around three million EU and EEA nationals in the UK.
Currently, right to rent only applies to England, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is making representations as part of the legal challenge to ‘reverse’ the scheme’s planned roll out to Scotland and Wales. The challenge alleges that the government is failing in its public duty to ensure policies are non-discriminatory.
John Wilkes, the Head of the EHRC in Scotland, said: “We are concerned that the right to rent scheme will increase discrimination against ethnic minorities because landlords will simply avoid letting to anyone who they think could be an illegal over-stayer. Because of the complexity of immigration law we are concerned that people with only limited leave to remain could be particularly affected.
“Our submissions will say that the UK government has failed to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty, which requires public bodies to ensure that all policies are non-discriminatory or that steps are taken to minimise discrimination when it is thought it may occur. Amongst our concerns are that the government has never properly monitored the scheme to see if discrimination has increased.”