UK: Landlords back bid to overturn Right to Rent scheme

A landlord organisation in England and Wales is supporting efforts to overturn a flagship immigration policy, saying its members won’t be “scapegoats for the failures of the border agencies”.

Under the UK government’s Right to Rent scheme, landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants with the prospect of prosecution if they know or have “reasonable cause to believe” that the property they are letting is occupied by someone who does not have the right to rent in the UK.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) is supporting a Judicial Review of the policy being sought today by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) which argues that the policy discriminates against foreign nationals. The RLA is also supporting a similar case being brought by the Camden Community Law Centre.

The fear of criminal sanctions has made many landlords reluctant about renting to non-UK nationals out of fear of being “duped” by forged documents.  Research by the JCWI has found that the scheme has made 51% of landlords less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals. This is backed up by similar research by the RLA which it will be using to support both cases. Despite requests for it, the Home Office has refused to publish a database of what all acceptable forms of identification for the scheme look like, arguing that there are simply too many from countries around the world.

A recent BBC investigation found that criminal gangs are helping undocumented immigrants to flout the law by selling them fake identity documents.

The same JCWI research found that 48% of landlords were less likely to rent to someone without a British passport as a result of the scheme because of the threat of criminal sanctions. This poses serious difficulties for the 17% of UK residents who do not have a passport.

Whilst in October the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration announced a new review of the Right to Rent, it warned that this “will not examine any unintended consequences of Right to Rent, for example discrimination against would-be tenants, increased homelessness, or displacement”. This is because, it said, it “does not have the capacity to conduct a meaningful examination of the unintended consequences of RtR at this time”.

RLA policy director, David Smith, said: “When this policy was first discussed we warned the Government of the unintended consequences of the Right to Rent scheme. How can a landlord be expected to know what every passport in every country is supposed to look like?

“For the overwhelming majority of landlords it makes no commercial sense to limit their access to a large proportion of the prospective tenant market. It is the fear of criminal sanctions for getting it wrong which is causing many simply to want to play it safe.

“Landlords should not be used as scapegoats for the failures of the border agencies. It is time to suspend this controversial and unwelcome policy.”