Legal challenges have been launched against the Home Office over its ‘Right to Rent’ rules, requiring landlords to check the immigration status of tenants.
The ‘Right to Rent’ scheme was introduced across England in 2016 and legally requires landlords to confirm that potential tenants have a right to live in the UK. The reasoning behind the scheme is that if those who are in the UK illegally are unable to find housing, they are more likely to voluntarily leave the country. Landlords who fail to comply face a fine of up to £3,000 or up to 5 years in prison. Critics claim that this forces landlords to act as border guards and that the rules have led to widespread discrimination against non-UK nationals.
The Home Office is now facing two legal challenges that seek to reverse this aspect of its ‘hostile environment policy’.
One case concerns a woman who applied to extend her student visa but the Home Office lost her passport and she has been unable to obtain a replacement passport from her country of origin. She is now applying to remain in the UK as a stateless person but in the meantime her immigration status is uncertain. As a result her landlord is now evicting her from her accommodation.
The other case is being brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), following research that it carried out last year revealing that the ‘Right to Rent’ policy has resulted in widespread discrimination. JCWI’s research found that 51% of landlords would be less likely to let a property to a foreign national due to the right to rent rules and 48% said that they would not rent to foreign nationals because of the risk of criminal sanctions. The Council is calling for a full evaluation of the scheme and its effects.
According to Chai Patel, legal policy director at JCWI, “the problem with it, apart from the inhumanity of that proposition, is that there’s no evidence it works. The Home Office hasn’t shown that the scheme will do anything to increase voluntary departures, which have actually reduced since the scheme came into force”.
MPs have also raised concerns that the policy forces those with uncertain immigration status to rent from ‘rogue landlords’, who are likely to take advantage of people by offering poor quality, poorly maintained accommodation at unreasonable prices.
Phillippa Kaufmann QC, representing JCWI, has said that the ‘Right to Rent’ policy is unjustified as the government is not able to prove that it is having “the desired effect of prompting illegal migrants to leave, rather than going underground to be exploited by rogue landlords”.
The Home Office has refused to comment on this matter.
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