Posted on February 13th 2017
Today in a new report JCWI is calling on the Government to stop the Right to Rent scheme and abandon plans for its imminent rollout to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Why? Because we now have evidence based on a year’s research to show that this scheme is causing racial discrimination: against foreigners and against British citizens who don’t hold a passport, especially ethnic minorities.
Our research found that:
- 51% of landlords surveyed said that the scheme would make them less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals. 18% said it would make them less likely to rent from someone from the EU.
- 42% of landlords surveyed 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.
- We ran a mystery shopping exercise involving multiple emails sent to landlords from different identities. The ‘white British’ mystery shopper who could not show a passport was 11% more likely to receive a negative response or no response than the ‘white British’ tenant with a passport.
- But the differential is much greater for a British ethnic minority citizen who cannot show a passport – he was 26% more likely to receive a negative response or no response than the BME tenant who could provide a British passport.
- An enquiry from a British Black Minority Ethnic (BME) tenant without a passport was ignored or turned down by 58% of landlords.
- The mystery shopping scenario in which the prospective tenant was not British, but had indefinite leave to remain in the UK, was 20% more likely to receive a negative response or no response compared to a British citizen.
Right to Rent requires landlords and agents to check prospective tenants’ immigration status and turn away undocumented migrants who don’t have the right to live or rent in the UK. If they don’t comply, they can be fined up to £3000. Since 1 December 2016 they can even be imprisoned for up to five years, if they knowingly rent to someone who can’t prove their right to rent.
A toxic scheme
JCWI has widespread support in its condemnation of the scheme. Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty said
“From the outset, JCWI, Liberty and many others warned that ‘right to rent’ would cause discrimination and division in our communities – and that’s exactly what it’s done. Here in black and white is the legacy of our Government’s attempt to turn us into a nation of border guards – race discrimination against British citizens, the most vulnerable put at risk from rogue landlords and no real benefits. Ministers cannot go on ignoring cold, hard facts – they must shut down this toxic experiment.”
Commenting on the report, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Brian Paddick said:
"Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords vehemently opposed these measures because we believed that unlawful discrimination would be the unintended consequence. This research shows that our worst fears have been realised. British people from black and other minority ethnic backgrounds are suffering unlawful racial discrimination and even white British people are being discriminated against by landlords if they do not have a passport.The research shows it is almost impossible for the most vulnerable in our society, including those legitimately seeking asylum, to find a home to rent. 'Right to rent' is ineffective in persuading irregular migrants to leave the UK and is proving to be a nightmare for landlords and tenants alike."
The most vulnerable individuals, such as asylum seekers, stateless persons, and victims of modern day slavery are put at the greatest risk of all. These individuals don’t have a right to rent, but should be granted permission to rent by the Secretary of State.
Our research has found that landlords are unwilling to go through the online checking process. The mystery shopper who requested an online check received a negative response or did not receive a response to 85% of enquiries.
The permission to rent system is supposed to safeguard vulnerable individuals and their human right to shelter. It is failing miserably.
Sarah Teather, Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK said:
“It was inevitable that the right to rent rules would result in a hostile environment for everyone. Legislating with deliberate intent to make those without immigration status street homeless is the kind of toxic act that infects everything with its unsavoury flavour.
"It is worth pausing to consider who many of the intended targets of the right to rent rules are: asylum seekers struggling to regularise their status, struggling to get a fair hearing from a system whose decision making process is notoriously arbitrary, and who after years of destitution are often finally accepted to be refugees after all. During their years of destitution, they are forced to rely on the kindness of friends and family who may offer a sofa or spare bed. The purpose of the right to rent rules is to stop informal arrangements like these.
"To deliberately cast the most vulnerable onto the streets and legislate to prevent kindness within a community is certain to have far reaching impacts on a society beyond the targets it is intended for."
For all the harm engendered by the scheme, the Government cannot even say whether it is working on its own terms to lower undocumented migration. Nor are authorities monitoring the scheme to track whether it is causing discrimination.
John Perry, Policy Advisor at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said:
“It’s time for the government to seriously reconsider the impact of right to rent on vulnerable tenants and would-be tenants before it is rolled out to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is simply not good enough to claim that the scheme has a deterrent effect when the proven benefits are so limited and there are regular reports of the damage being caused."
Dr Omar Khan, Director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, said:
“This report shows what a hostile environment against immigrants looks like - racial profiling of people on grounds of their race and nationality. The Right to Rent scheme goes against 50 years of race relations laws outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services. The danger is that the scheme will deny immigrants and British-born ethnic minorities alike a roof over their heads in the private rented sector and take Theresa May further away from her commitment to combat racial discrimination."
Samir Jeraj, Policy and Practice Officer at the Race Equality Foundation, said:
"We are now in a situation where more and more of us are drawn into the UK’s brutal immigration system. As shown here, this could be because you looks or sound ‘different’ and have to prove your innocence, or because you work in a particular job and have to become an amateur border guard.
"As with other parts of the ‘hostile environment’, government has ignored the evidence and ploughed ahead with a policy that has taken us back fifty years. What we are yet to see is the long-term impact on people and families denied access to housing. What we are likely to see is an impact on homelessness, and on black and minority ethnic people living in poorer quality housing."
Citizens, not border guards
Most landlords are against the scheme, with 80% of landlords who responded to our survey stating that do not believe that they should have to undertake immigration checks. Their concerns are summed up by Clare, a landlord from the East of England:
“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?”
The scheme is also opposed by landlord’s representative bodies. 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.”
In light of our findings, Stuart McDonald MP, spokesperson for the Scottish National Party on Asylum, Immigration and Border Control, said:
“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… This scheme should be halted immediately until, at the very least, a proper evaluation can be carried out.”
Alicja Zalesinska, the Director of Tai Pawb, an organisation promoting equality in housing in Wales, said:
“If this scheme is to be rolled out in Wales, we urge the UK government to undertake a robust and independent evaluation of this scheme and its effects on vulnerable people. Whilst government’s own evaluation of the pilot did not show adverse effects, it wasn’t long or robust enough to show such effects if they existed. There is a growing body of evidence from organisations such as JCWI that discrimination is taking place and apart from its obvious effects, it will only serve to further deepen the racial divide in our society.”
The right to rent scheme conscripts ordinary members of civil society into the immigration enforcement arm of the Government, and does so in such a crude and ham-fisted fashion that it creates structural incentives for them to discriminate unlawfully against foreigners and ethnic minorities. It has no place in British life or in British law. Our country’s borders belong on the edge of international waters and at our ports, not at our front doors. This scheme sows the seeds of division and mistrust and undermines integration in our communities.
Saira Grant, chief executive of JCWI, says:
“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.”