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Crackdown on ‘illegal’ immigrants leading to discrimination against Britons – especially ethnic minorities -  in housing market, new report shows

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A new report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) reveals that foreigners and British citizens without passports, particularly those from ethnic minorities, are being discriminated against in the private rental housing market as a result of the Right to Rent scheme designed to crack down on irregular immigration.

  •   51% of landlords surveyed said that the scheme would make them less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals.


  • 42% of landlords stated that they were less likely to rent to someone without a British passport as a result of the scheme. This rose to 48% when explicitly asked to consider the impact of the criminal sanction.


  • An enquiry from a British Black Minority Ethnic (BME) tenant without a passport was ignored or turned down by 58% of landlords, in a mystery shopping exercise.

The Right to Rent scheme requires landlords and agents to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants and refuse a tenancy to irregular migrants. If they fail to fully comply with the scheme they face a fine of up to £3,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years.

The scheme creates structural incentives for landlords to discriminate unlawfully against foreigners and ethnic minorities, says the report.

Currently in force in England and poised for imminent roll-out in the devolved regions, the scheme does not contain adequate safeguards against discrimination, adequate mechanisms to monitor discrimination, or any form of redress for victims of discrimination. JCWI is calling on the Government to abandon it and to immediately halt any plans for roll-out.

Saira Grant, chief executive of JCWI, said:

“We have been warning for some time that the Right to Rent scheme is failing on all fronts. It treats many groups who need housing unfairly, it is clearly discriminatory, it is putting landlords in an impossible position, and there is no evidence that it is doing anything to tackle irregular immigration.  Creating a so called ‘hostile environment’ that targets vulnerable men, women and children is bad enough, implementing a scheme that traps and discriminates against British citizens is absurd. Expanding the scheme to devolved nations without taking into account the discrimination it causes would be misguided and unjustifiable.  It is time to stop the scheme before it does any more damage.”

Stuart McDonald MP, the SNP’s spokesperson for Asylum, Immigration and Border Control, said:


“The Home Office’s Right to Rent scheme effectively turns private landlords into de facto immigration officers and will lead to hefty fines or even imprisonment if they do not comply with the cumbersome administrative process.


“The JCWI’s research confirms our concerns that migrants, asylum seekers, and also British citizens have experienced discrimination and indirect racism from landlords.


“Discrimination in any form has absolutely no place in modern Scotland and it is extremely concerning that the Home Office could roll out this toxic scheme in Scotland anytime they see fit - housing policy is devolved to Holyrood and this should not be allowed to happen without the consent of the Scottish Government.

“When I questioned the UK government’s Immigration Minister on the effectiveness of the right to rent scheme, Robert Goodwill couldn’t come up with even a hint that this scheme has been effective in achieving its aims.  This scheme should be halted immediately until, at the very least, a proper evaluation can be carried out.”

JCWI’s research suggests that landlords who have no wish to discriminate are being forced to do so by the scheme – with people who have a full right to rent a home in the UK being disadvantaged, along with others who should be able to access housing.

Landlords can be heavily fined or even imprisoned if they fail to fully comply with the scheme. This, combined with the complexity of the immigration checks they  must undertake, means that in some cases they are pushed into choosing tenants who feel like a ‘safer bet’ because they hold a British passport or  because they ‘seem British’ or their name sounds British, the report shows.

Residential Landlords Association Chairman Alan Ward said:

“We share JCWI's concerns over document discrimination and these findings reflect issues that the Residential Landlords Association raised right from the start. The Government’s own figures show the Right to Rent scheme is not working so maybe it is time to scrap it and think again. With the threat of a jail sentence hanging over landlords if they get it wrong it is hardly surprising that they are being cautious.
There are more than 400 acceptable documents proving right to rent from within the EU alone and landlords are making risk-based decisions and only accepting documents that they recognise and have confidence in. The RLA supports landlords by offering immigration and right to rent courses which guide them through the complex process – including a section on the Equality Act and how to avoid discrimination.”

The scheme is a key plank of the Government’s drive to lower net migration with authorities hoping than an inability to rent a home in the UK will push migrants who have no legal status in Britain to leave the country. But the JCWI report shows the Government is not monitoring whether the scheme is achieving this aim, or whether it is pushing vulnerable people into the hands of rogue landlords.

Further Findings:

  •  A white British tenant without a passport was 11% more likely to be ignored or turned down by landlords than a white British applicant with a passport. (17% of British citizens do not hold passports.)


  • BME communities worse impacted: Where neither the white British tenant nor the BME British tenant had a passport, the BME tenant was 14% more likely to be turned away or ignored. JCWI’s mystery shopping exercise found no evidence of ethnicity discrimination where a non BME and a BME British citizen both held passports – demonstrating that the discrimination arises from the scheme itself.


  • 85% of inquiries from the most vulnerable individuals, such as asylum seekers, stateless persons, and victims of modern day slavery, who require landlords to do an online check with the Home Office to confirm they have been granted permission to rent, received no response at all from landlords in the mystery shopping exercise.

“Two days before we were supposed to move in, we get an email from the rental agency saying ‘we’re not going to release the keys to you, you’ve lost your deposit with us, because you’re not legal in this country’ … It was awful. I was crying for that entire 24 hour period. I mean, I have a 6 year old. My child was going to be on the street. It was awful, it was absolutely awful.”

Kirby Costa Campos, Brighton.
Kirby is a US citizen married to an EU national with a full right to rent in the UK.

“How can we, as landlords, ever know really if someone has got the right to rent? Why should we be working as immigration officers? When actually we haven’t got a clue and we certainly don’t have any information, or any training. I feel I have absolutely no way at all of telling whether or not someone has got legitimate immigration papers, how would I recognise a false passport or travel document?”
Clare Higson, Norfolk, member of Eastern Landlords Association

For press enquiries and requests for interviews with Saira Grant or landlords/tenants affected by Right to Rent please contact:

Sarah Marcus, JCWI
07739 396 280
0207553 7469


  • The executive summary of the report is available here


  • JCWI is an independent national charity established in 1967. Our mission is to promote justice, fairness and equality in immigration and asylum law and policy.


  •  The Right to Rent scheme was piloted in certain regions of the UK from December 2014 and came into force across England in February 2016.


  • The right to rent scheme is part of a package of legislative measures adopted in recent years to create a ‘hostile environment’ for irregular migrants. The combined aim of these measures is to deny irregular migrants access to a range of services, with the expectation that this will lead them to voluntarily leave the UK.


  • The main aim of the right to rent scheme is to deny irregular migrants access to the private rental market and thereby encourage them to leave the UK voluntarily.


  •  Under the 2014 Immigration Act, individuals who do not have a legal right to remain in the UK are disqualified from occupying residences under a residential tenancy agreement. In addition, landlords and their agents have a duty to carry out immigration checks on all adults who will occupy a property before entering into a residential tenancy agreement. This involves seeing original versions of prescribed documents contained in the Code of Practice. If a migrant cannot provide the required documents, landlords can confirm that the individual has a right to rent through the Landlords Checking Service.


  • Certain vulnerable individuals, such as asylum seekers, who have no right to rent may be granted permission to rent by the Secretary of State. The Home Office does not inform those granted permission to rent that they have it unless they make direct enquiries. It also refuses to provide them with any documentary proof that would satisfy a Right to Rent check. These individuals must rely on the willingness of landlords to navigate the Home Office’s online checking service. However, landlords are only told to use the online service when they are requested to do so by a prospective tenant who states they have permission to rent, even though they may not know if permission has been granted to them.


  • Landlords or agents who fail to adequately conduct the checks and who enter into a tenancy agreement with a person who does not have a right to rent face a civil penalty of up to £3,000.


  • From 1 December 2016 landlords or their agents who knowingly allow a person who does not have the right to rent to occupy a property under a residential tenancy agreement and do not take steps to remove them from the property once they become aware of this can be subject to a prison sentence of up to five years.


  • This report is based on research undertaken since the civil penalty scheme came into force nationwide in England from February 2016.


  • Findings are based on surveys of landlords (108 responses), letting agents (208 responses) and organisations working with or on behalf of affected groups (17 responses). In addition, a mystery shopping exercise was conducted at the initial point of contact with landlords. The mystery shopping consisted of email enquiries sent to landlords and agents from online accounts belonging to six scenarios that differed in their ethnicity, nationality, the documents they had to evidence their right to rent, or their migration status. Response rates and types of responses were compared between scenarios based on their relevant characteristics. An additional mystery shopping exercise was conducted with a further persona whose documents were with the Home Office. In total, 1,708 mystery shopping enquiries and 867 responses from landlords were analysed. The extent to which the Government was monitoring the effectiveness and the impact of the right to rent scheme was assessed through examining responses to Freedom of Information Act (‘FOI’) requests and Parliamentary Questions.


The only way the scheme is monitored is through a consultative panel which meets infrequently.