21 Mar 2017, 13 mins ago

Measures introduced to make landlords legally responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants have lead to landlords deliberately discriminating against people who don’t have a British passport, new report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (“JCWI”) has found.

The “Right to Rent Scheme” was introduced by the Immigration Act 2014, as part of the Conservative Party’s agenda to create a “hostile environment” for irregular migrants in the UK.

Under the provisions all individuals in the UK who are subject to immigration control and require permission to enter or remain in the UK but do not have it are disqualified from entering into a residential tenancy agreement. Landlords and their agents will have a duty to check the immigration status of potential tenants or lodgers before entering into a residential tenancy agreement with an individual. If a landlord or agent fails to complete the checks and rents a property to someone who does not have valid ‘leave to remain’ (and therefore does not have the ‘Right to Rent’) they could be fined up to £3,000.

According to JCWI’s report, published at the beginning of September, landlords in the West Midlands are becoming increasingly cautious about renting property out to any tenant with identity documents they are not familiar with, and many landlords are not clear about the processes they are expected to follow. As a result, potentially lawful tenants are being refused housing unfairly.

JCWI’s main findings were:

  • 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’, issued to assist Landlords in complying with the checks, 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.

David Smith, Policy Director for the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) said the government’s plans were causing confusion and anxiety for many landlords.

“If the government expect landlords to act as border police it should provide the training and material needed to give them the confidence to carry out the checks required of them.

“In the absence of such support, today’s research sadly shows the inevitable consequences of the policy which the RLA has long voiced concerns about. Faced with considerable sanctions, landlords will inevitably play it safe where a tenant’s identity documents are either unclear or simply not known to them.”

The scheme came under heavy criticism from tenants and landlord associations alike, when it was ‘piloted’ across five boroughs in the West Midlands last December. The coalition government had stated its commitment to staggering the rollout progressively with multiple promises that the pilot scheme would be extended to the rest of the UK only after a full and transparent evaluation of the pilot. However, the newly elected Conservative Government now intends to push ahead with the wider roll-out, before any evaluation has been completed.

In his speech on immigration on 21 May 2015, David Cameron:

“For the first time we’ve had landlords checking whether their tenants are here legally. The Liberal Democrats only wanted us to run a ‘pilot’ on that one. But now we’ve got a majority, we will roll it out nationwide…”

The research by the JCWI is, therefore, the first (and only) full assessment of the pilot scheme and appears to confirm a number of concerns regarding the scheme’s suitability and efficiency.

Saira Grant, Legal & Policy Director of JCWI, said:

“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.

Saira Grant added that the threat of criminalisation is likely to 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”, she said.

Meanwhile, the Living Rent Campaign (LRC), a coalition of advocacy groups based in Scotland, called on the Home Office to scrap the scheme, and on the Scottish Government to oppose its expansion to Scotland “whole-heartedly”.

LRC said that the Right to Rent Scheme was “an unworkable and racist policy”, which will further marginalise migrants. “Far from stripping these tenants of even more of their rights and protections, we should be guaranteeing a safe, secure tenancy for everybody who needs it.”