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Right to Rent Checks Result In Discrimination Against Those Who Appear ‘Foreign’

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Posted on September 03rd 2015

The Right to Rent checks form part of a package of measures intended to create a “hostile environment” for irregular migrants in the UK. They are contained in the Immigration Act 2014, which stipulates that the provisions are to be implemented on a phased basis. The checks came into force in five local authorities in the West Midlands on 1st December 2014. Assurances were given to Parliament during the passage of the Act that the scheme would be thoroughly and transparently evaluated before any decision on a national roll-out takes place. These assurances appear to have now been overridden. The Home Office conducted an evaluation of the checks from 1st December 2014 to 1st May 2015, but at the time of writing it has yet to make public its findings. Despite this, the Government has announced it will go ahead with a national rollout and measures to widen and strengthen the proposals.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has conducted an independent evaluation of the Right to Rent scheme and has uncovered a number of negative impacts on tenants and landlords as a direct result of the scheme.The main findings are as follows:

  • There is evidence that landlords are prepared to discriminate against those with complicated immigration status and those who cannot provide documentation immediately.
  • Many landlords have found the checks confusing and have therefore undertaken them incorrectly.
  • The ‘Code of Practice for Landlords’ and the ‘Code of Practice on Avoiding Discrimination’ are difficult for landlords and agents to understand.
  • Due to the timing, location and duration of the 'pilot', it cannot capture the impact of the policy if rolled out nationwide.
  • The policy has not and will not achieve its stated aim to deter irregular migration or prevent irregular migrants from settling in the UK.

The full report is available here.

Right to Rent Checks Result in Discrimination Against those who Appear ‘Foreign’

Our evaluation found that 42% of landlords are unlikely to rent to those without British passports. Over 25% would be less likely to rent to someone with a foreign name or foreign accent. These checks are not being undertaken uniformly but are instead directed at certain individuals who appear ‘foreign’. Landlords are being forced to discriminate against individuals with the legal right to rent but with unclear or complicated immigration status, in addition to those who cannot provide documentation immediately. This includes BME tenants, British citizens and those with valid leave to remain.

Government reneges on Parliamentary assurances on Right to Rent Scheme

Despite assurances from the Home Office that the scheme would be fully evaluated before any subsequent rollout, David Cameron stated in May 2015 that the scheme is set to be extended across the country. In the forthcoming Immigration Bill, the scheme will be widened to include further sanctions including potential jail sentences for landlords who repeatedly fail to carry out the checks, with a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. The new proposals also give landlords the power to evict people who do not have the Right to Rent, without the need for a court order.

These announcements are extremely concerning given that the Government has not produced their own evaluation or any evidence that the initial pilot has worked well or achieved its stated aims[i]. In light of our evaluation, the scheme and the additional proposals contained in the upcoming Bill will only serve to deepen the discrimination and hardship already being caused to those legally here and seeking a tenancy, including British citizens.

Right to Rent Checks Do Not Meet Stated Aims

The Right to Rent checks are not achieving the stated aim of deterring irregular migration nor are they preventing irregular migrants from accessing housing. Home Office enforcement during the pilot has been very low with a response to an FOI request stating that only 2 penalty notices have been issued[ii].

JCWI’s own data shows that irregular migrants do not use the private rental market as 66% sofa surf or stay with friends. Thus, the scheme is not meeting its stated aim but is divisive and is feeding into a climate of fear being created by the Government, in addition to causing discrimination against legal residents.

Landlords Forced into being Border Guards and 77% do not support the Scheme

The Right to Rent checks have shifted the burden of responsibility onto landlords by turning them into immigration officials.  Landlords feel forced to discriminate due to confusion surrounding the scheme and the fear of a financial penalty. This will only increase if a further criminal charge against landlords is brought in.  77% of Landlords who responded to our survey do not feel that they should be made to undertake these checks and are not in favour of a national roll out.

Scheme must be Halted and Home Office must publish its Evaluation of the West Midlands ‘Pilot’

The Government must halt any plans to increase the penalties and scope of the ‘Right to Rent’ policy until the ‘pilot’ has been fully, transparently and publicly evaluated and the issues of discrimination against certain groups of tenants, as well as other adverse impacts on landlords and tenants, have been properly addressed.

Statement from Saira Grant, Legal & Policy Director, JCWI

“The findings from our independent evaluation show that the Right to Rent policy encourages discrimination and has created a hostile environment for all migrants and ethnic minorities in the UK seeking to access the private rental market. 

Our evaluation shows direct discrimination by landlords against those legally here but with complicated or unclear immigration status. These checks are leading to increased racial profiling. Those who appear foreign or have foreign accents are finding it increasingly difficult to access tenancies.

The scheme must therefore be properly evaluated and scrutinised by parliament before any decision is taken on a national rollout. The Home Office having conducted its own evaluation must make the findings public before the scheme is widened.[iii]

The additional proposals to be included in the forthcoming Immigration Bill will only serve to deepen the discrimination and hardship already being caused to those legally here and seeking a tenancy. The threat of criminalisation will put extra pressure on landlords, exacerbating their concerns of renting to anybody without clear immigration status. Due to the current developments in Calais, we are now seeing a knee jerk reaction from our government who want to appear even ‘tougher’ on ‘illegal’ immigration through extending a divisive scheme without proper consideration.”


[i] Please see s.5 of our Report on the assurances given to parliament of a thorough evaluation of the pilot which would inform any future roll outs.

[ii] The Home Office want to use the scheme to deter and remove ‘illegal’ migrants. Only 2 landlords were served with a penalty notice because they were deemed not to have complied with the checks.

[iii] The Home Office evaluation was completed in June 2015, it is unclear whether they have completed a report. In email correspondence is August 2015 the Home Office stated its findings will be published “in due course”.

 

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