Law News

High Court Rules Right to Rent a Breach of Human Rights

Rose Jinks - March 1, 2019

The High Court has ruled today that the Government’s Right to Rent scheme breaches human rights.

Under Right to Rent, landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of all prospective tenants, with the risk of prosecution if they know or have reasonable cause to believe that someone who does not have the right to rent in the UK occupies the property that they’re letting. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, introduced the scheme as a key part of the Government’s hostile environment for illegal immigrants.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) joined with human rights group Liberty to intervene in a case brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), to have the policy declared incompatible with human rights, on the grounds that it is leading to discrimination against non-UK nationals who might be in the country legitimately, along with British ethnic minorities.

Recent research by the RLA found that the fear of getting things wrong led to 44% of private landlords being less likely to let to those without a British passport. It also revealed that 53% of landlords were less likely to let to those with limited time to remain in the UK, while 20% were less likely to consider letting to EU or EEA nationals.

Similar findings were uncovered by the JCWI. Significantly, during the course of the case, Government research recently emerged that confirmed that a significant proportion of landlords were unwilling to let to people without British passports.

Delivering his verdict in the High Court today, Mr. Justice Martin Spencer ruled that the scheme breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, on the basis that it led to discrimination against non-UK nationals with the right to rent property and British ethnic minorities.

In a damning ruling, Mr. Justice Spencer, referring extensively to arguments and evidence provided by the RLA, concluded that discrimination by landlords was taking place “because of the scheme”. 

He went on: “The Government’s own evaluation failed to consider discrimination on grounds of nationality at all, only on grounds of ethnicity.”

The judge continued, finding that Right to Rent “does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate, but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not”, describing such discrimination as being “logical and wholly predictable” when faced with potential sanctions and penalties for getting things wrong.

High Court Rules Right to Rent a Breach of Human Rights

He added: “The safeguards used by the Government to avoid discrimination, namely online guidance, telephone advice, and codes of conduct and practice, have proved ineffective. In my judgment, in those circumstances, the Government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place, by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”

The ruling comes following a report published last year by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, which found that Right to Rent has “yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance” and that the Home Office was “failing to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use, while, at the same time, doing little to address the concerns of stakeholders”.

Academics at the University of Oxford suggest that the foreign-born population is almost three times as likely to live in the private rental sector than those born in the UK.

The RLA and JCWI have written to the Home Secretary, seeking an urgent meeting.

John Stewart, the Policy Manager at the RLA, says: “Today’s ruling is a damning critique of a flagship Government policy. We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.

“We call on the Government to accept the decision, scrap the Right to Rent, and consider what else can be done to sensibly manage migration, without having to rely on untrained landlords to do the job of the Home Office.”

Chai Patel, the Legal Policy Director for the JCWI, adds: “There is no place for racism in the UK housing market. Now that the High Court has confirmed that Theresa May’s policy actively causes discrimination, Parliament must act immediately to scrap it. But we all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals and schools. Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the hostile environment must be dismantled.”