UK: Attitudes harden on Right to Rent as High Court begins judicial review
As the High Court today begins a judicial review of the UK Government’s flagship Right to Rent scheme, new research from the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has found an increasing number of private landlords are less likely to rent to those without a British passport.
Right to Rent began operating nationwide in 2016 as part of the ‘hostile environment’ strategy for illegal immigrants introduced by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary.
Under the 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 RLA, which represents the interests of landlords in the private rented sector across England and Wales, is today intervening in a judicial review led by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). Both organisations argue that the policy discriminates against foreign nationals, especially those who cannot easily prove their right to remain in the UK.
According to the RLA study, 44% of landlords say are less likely to rent to those without a British passport, up from 42% a year ago.
The research also finds that the fear of getting things wrong also means that 53% of landlords are now less likely to rent to those with limited time to remain in the UK, up from 49% in 2017. In a sign of the uncertainty caused by Brexit, 20% of landlords say that are less likely to consider letting property to EU or EEA nationals, up from 17% in 2017.
In a report earlier this year, David Bolt, independent chief inspector of Borders and Immigration, concluded that the Right to Rent has “yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance” and that the Home Office is “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 Oxford University suggest that the foreign-born population is almost three times as likely to be in the private rental sector compared to the UK-born population.
The RLA is calling for the Right to Rent policy to be scrapped altogether, arguing that it discriminates against those unable to easily prove their identity and foreign-born nationals who have documents unfamiliar to landlords. It is calling also for urgent guidance to be issued by the government providing clear information for landlords about the right of EU citizens to rent property, especially in the case of a no deal Brexit.
David Smith, policy director for the RLA, said: “The Right to Rent is creating a hostile environment for those who are legitimately in the UK but may have documentation that is not easy to understand for landlords. It creates needless friction between landlords and tenants. Landlords cannot be blamed for taking a cautious approach as they are not immigration officers.
“It is a policy that clearly leads to discrimination against certain groups and needs to be brought to an end. Despite promises from the Home Office little progress has been made and this is reflected in figures.
“Also the government has so far failed to provide any single document providing clear advice to landlords about the rights of EU nationals to rent property in the event of a no deal Brexit. It is leaving many with a sense of frustration as they do not know if they should renew tenancies and create new ones.”
Chai Patel, legal policy director for Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “Sajid Javid promised he would learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal, which left many thousands of legal immigrants to the UK destitute, detained, and even deported. But he is ignoring the clear evidence, further reinforced by today’s new RLA findings, that requiring landlords to check immigration status does not work and causes exactly the kinds of problems that the Windrush generation faced.
“Not only is he ignoring our evidence, he is fighting us in court to stop the Home Office from being required to do its own evaluation into whether the scheme is harming ethnic minorities and foreign nationals with every right to rent property. He is ignoring the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s recommendations to do the same. This is extraordinarily intrusive red tape that conscripts landlords as border officials on pain of imprisonment, and Sajid Javid won’t even check that it’s working as planned. He has clearly learnt nothing from Theresa May and Amber Rudd’s mistakes.”