The Right to Rent scheme is leading to discrimination against Britons, especially ethnic minorities, in the private rental sector, a new report shows.
The study, by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), found that foreigners and British citizens without passports, particularly ethnic minorities, are facing discrimination in the private rental sector as a result of the Right to Rent scheme, which was designed to crack down on illegal immigration.
The report reveals that 51% of landlords said the scheme would make them less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals. In addition, 42% of landlords stated that they were less likely to let to someone without a British passport as a result of the scheme. This rose to 48% when they were explicitly asked to consider the impact of the criminal sanctions involved with the scheme.
In a mystery shopping exercise conducted by the JCWI, an enquiry from a British Black Minority (BME) tenant without a passport was ignored or turned down by 58% of landlords.
The Right to Rent scheme requires landlords and letting agents to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants, and refuse a tenancy to illegal migrants. If they fail to comply with the scheme, landlords and agents face a fine of up to £3,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years.
The JCWI believes that the scheme creates structural incentives for discrimination against foreigners and ethnic minorities.
Currently in force in England and expected for roll out across the rest of the UK, the Right to Rent scheme does not contain adequate safeguards against discrimination, adequate mechanisms to monitor discrimination, or any form of redress for victims of discrimination, warns the JCWI. The organisation is calling on the Government to abandon the scheme and immediately halt any plans for roll out.
The Chief Executive of the JCWI, Saira Grant, 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.”
The JCWI’s research suggests that landlords who have no desire to discriminate are being forced to do so by the scheme, with individuals who have a full right to rent a home in the UK being disadvantaged, along with others who should have access to housing.
Landlords can be heavily fined or even imprisoned if they do not comply with the scheme. This, combined with the complexity of the immigration checks they must undertake, means that, in some cases, they are pushed to choose tenants who they consider a safer bet because they hold a British passport, ‘seem British’, or their name sounds British, the report reveals.
The Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), Alan Ward, responds to the findings: “We share JCWI concerns over document discrimination, and these findings reflect issues that the RLA 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.”
The scheme is a key part of the Government’s drive to lower net migration, with authorities hoping that an inability to rent a home in the UK will push migrants who have no legal status in Britain to leave the country. However, the JCWI report shows that the Government is not monitoring whether the scheme is achieving this aim, or whether it is pushing vulnerable people into the hands of rogue landlords.
In a further mystery shopping exercise, a white British tenant without a passport was 11% more likely to be ignored or turned down by landlords than a white British applicant with a passport. This is particularly worrying considering that 17% of British citizens do not hold a passport.
BME communities are the worse impacted by the scheme, found the JCWI. Where neither the white British tenant nor the BME British tenant had a passport, the BME tenant was 14% more likely to be turned away or ignored. The JCWI’s mystery shopping exercise found no evidence of ethnicity discrimination where a non-BME and a BME British citizen both held passports, demonstrating that the discrimination arises from the scheme itself.
Worryingly, 85% of inquiries from the most vulnerable individuals, such as asylum seekers, stateless persons and victims of modern day slavery, who require landlords to do an online check with the Home Office to confirm they have been granted permission to rent, received no response at all from landlords.
Kirby Costa Campos, a US citizen who is married to an EU national and has a full right to rent in the UK, explains how the scheme has affected her: “Two days before we were supposed to move in, we get an email from the rental agency saying: ‘We’re not going to release the keys to you, you’ve lost your deposit with us, because you’re not legal in this country.’ It was awful. I was crying for that entire 24-hour period. I mean, I have a six-year-old. My child was going to be on the street. It was awful, it was absolutely awful.”
Clare Higson, a member of of the Eastern Landlords Association, looks at the scheme from a landlord’s perspective: “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?”
Do you feel that the Right to Rent scheme is fuelling discrimination in the private rental sector?