Foreigners and British citizens without passports, particularly those from ethnic minorities, are being discriminated against in the private rental housing market as a result of the Right to Rent scheme designed to crack down on irregular immigration, according to a new report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).
The Right to Rent scheme requires landlords and agents to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants and refuse a tenancy to irregular migrants. If they fail to fully comply with the scheme they face a fine of up to £3,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years.
The scheme creates structural incentives for landlords to discriminate unlawfully against foreigners and ethnic minorities, says the report.
Currently in force in England and poised for imminent roll-out in the devolved regions, the scheme “does not contain adequate safeguards against discrimination, adequate mechanisms to monitor discrimination, or any form of redress for victims of discrimination”. JCWI has called on the government to abandon it and to immediately halt any plans for roll-out.
Saira Grant, chief executive of JCWI, said: “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.”
JCWI’s research suggests that landlords who have no wish to discriminate are being forced to do so by the scheme – with people who have a full right to rent a home in the UK being disadvantaged, along with others who should be able to access housing.
Landlords can be heavily fined or even imprisoned if they fail to fully comply with the scheme. This, combined with the complexity of the immigration checks they must undertake, means that in some cases they are pushed into choosing tenants who feel like a ‘safer bet’ because they hold a British passport or because they ‘seem British’ or their name sounds British, the report shows.
Residential Landlords Association chairman Alan Ward said: “We share JCWI concerns over document discrimination and these findings reflect issues that the Residential Landlords Association 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.”