The ‘right to rent’ is discriminatory – enough is enough

John Perry, Policy Advisor at Chartered Institute of Housing, details how the ‘right to rent’ is discriminatory, supported by research conducted by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

The new home secretary, Priti Patel, is now overseeing the review of the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy promised by her predecessor, Sajid Javid. In many ways housing is the most urgent issue. Obliging private landlords to check the passport of anyone applying for a letting (the ‘right to rent’) is a key element of the hostile environment. But this was dealt a major blow in a court judgement sought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which said the scheme discriminates against people according to their nationality.

Mr Justice Martin Spencer’s judgment on 1 March was excoriating, saying the scheme “not merely risks causing illegal discrimination, but is certain to do so”. If the judgement is upheld on appeal, the Home Office will have to find a way to make the scheme compatible with human rights law. In the meantime, it cannot be extended to the rest of the UK as the Home Office planned.

Championing the cause 

It took over five years to win an argument that was championed from the start by the Chartered Institute of Housing. In 2013 the housing minister wrote to the CIH’s chief executive, setting out plans to deter ‘illegal’ immigrants by obliging landlords to make document checks.

The CIH immediately said that such a change would affect people living legally in  the UK, as landlords would likely play safe by rejecting anyone who failed to produce a UK passport. Along with the JCWI, we repeated our arguments in the run up to the pilot scheme that took place in the West Midlands, and were assured in October 2014 that discrimination was “the most fundamental question” to be addressed.

Despite this, the scheme was rolled out across England in February 2016. The CIH again warned that, with around 2.6 million people to be checked each year, “landlords may simply discriminate against anyone they believe isn’t British, even if they have a legal right to live in the UK”.

The CIH pointed out that a scheme costing £4.7 million a year had led to only 31 ‘illegal’ migrants being removed from the country. Then last year, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reported that the right to rent “had yet to demonstrate its worth,” confirming the CIH’s point that the discriminatory effects of the policy were not being monitored.

Worsening discrimination

Research by JCWI found that 51%  of landlords are less likely to rent to non-British tenants and 48% are less likely rent to those without a British passport. A Residential Landlords Association survey also found that half of landlords are reluctant to let properties to working migrants and some will not even rent to European nationals.

Given the complexity of rules relating to EU nationals after Brexit, such discrimination is likely to worsen. And recently, the RLA, the JCWI and ‘the 3 million’, which represents EU citizens in the UK, urged Boris Johnson to scrap the right to rent.

The Home Office is to appeal against the High Court judgement, and will face evidence from landlords of the problems that their own sector is experiencing and which are leading many of them to discriminate, as well as further evidence on behalf of migrants and black and ethnic minority groups.

But instead of pursuing the appeal, why doesn’t the Home Office abandon a costly measure which has had little impact on illegal immigration and whose bad effects were highlighted in the Windrush scandal? Sajid Javid could only issue an apology for its effects. Will Priti Patel, also from a second-generation immigrant family, now say enough is enough?

 

John Perry runs the CIH housing rights website. Find out more: www.housing-rights.info

To discuss this article, contact Zina Smith: zina.smith@campbelltickell.com

This article is also featured in the latest CT Brief – Diversity edition