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Right to Rent: did the Home Office really not find any evidence of discrimination?

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Posted on March 16th 2017

In a recent parliamentary response to JCWI’s new report, Passport Please: the impact of the Right to Rent checks on migrants and ethnic minorities in England  which details evidence of discrimination occurring under the Right to Rent scheme, the Government has claimed that their own 2015 Home Office evaluation 'found no evidence of discrimination in terms of outcomes for prospective tenants'. This is a departure from their previous line, which was that the Home Office’s evaluation had found 'no hard evidence of discrimination or of people without passports being placed at disadvantage'.

Yet the very evaluation they refer to spells out exactly what discrimination they did find: “Sixty per cent of White British mystery shoppers received an email response to their enquiry [about renting a property]… compared with forty per cent of BME shoppers’.

Bear in mind both of these statements are talking about the same Government report, and about findings that were published in October 2015.

When one looks at the Government evaluation there is clear evidence of discrimination occurring at various stages, and even of landlords frankly telling the researchers that the Right to Rent scheme will cause them to discriminate. Home Office mystery shoppers from BME backgrounds (including British citizens) were 50% less likely to receive a response to their enquiry about renting a property. Where a landlord did respond, BME shoppers were asked to provide more information than ‘white British’ mystery shoppers. BME mystery shoppers also reported discriminatory comments from landlords. We have been unable to get a full breakdown of the mystery shopping results as the Home Office claims the data is private and confidential to the mystery shoppers who were hired to conduct the research. 

So how have we gone from ‘no hard evidence’ (a cop out if ever there was one) to 'no evidence’ at all? Well, the magic words here are ‘in terms of outcomes for prospective tenants’. What the Government seems to mean by this is that as long as everyone, in the end, is offered some sort of tenancy, then it’s not really discrimination. No matter what prejudice you face along the way, whether you are put to the back of the queue, presented with unjustified demands for additional documents or information that others were not, or even refused properties outright, it doesn’t matter as long as you eventually find somewhere to live.

That is not how unlawful discrimination is measured. If you are not offered a job, or offered a lower paying one than another person because of your race or nationality then it is not a defence to argue that you eventually got a job, or that at least you’re being paid something. The fact that you end up with a roof over your head is no comfort when you are being treated as a second-class citizen and having your choices unlawfully restricted in an already tough housing market.

The Home Office continues to plan for a further roll-out of the Right to Rent scheme to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Taking a more serious view of the mounting evidence of discrimination than the British Government, the Welsh Cabinet Secretary has already written to the UK Immigration Minister to ask for a further evaluation of the scheme before a roll out to Wales. We hope the Home Secretary and her Ministers will look again at their report, and at ours, and see the evidence that is staring them in the face.



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