Blog: The unintended consequences of Right to Rent

Sarah MacFdyen
Sarah MacFdyen

By Sarah Macfadyen, policy manager at Crisis

From February 1st, private landlords across England will be liable for a fine of up to £3000 if they’re found to be letting their property to someone who is living in the country illegally. In nearly all cases, this means they will need to see proof of immigration status from all prospective tenants.

For most people, this will just involve showing the landlord their passport or visa. However, for people who have been homeless, it could be much more difficult.

Lots of homeless people simply don’t have identity documents. Their passport might have got lost or stolen when sleeping rough or moving round different accommodation, or they might never have had one at all. People who have to leave their home in a hurry, like women fleeing domestic violence, often have to leave their possessions behind. Faced with a prospective tenant who doesn’t have a passport, landlords are likely to feel it’s easier to just rent to someone who can prove their right to rent easily.

Landlords are not immigration officers and they aren’t experts in different passports, visas or identity documents from around the world. There is a real risk that they will simply choose not to rent to people whose nationality they are uncertain about or who they perceive to be ‘foreign’ rather than risk a fine.

Overall, our fear is that the unintended consequence of the Right to Rent checks will be to make it more difficult for people who have the full right to rent in the country to find a home – and potentially leave them facing homelessness.

The Home Office has been sympathetic to these concerns and we have worked with them to try and improve the scheme. Overall, we have achieved:

  • A long list of alternative documents, including benefits paperwork and a letter from a housing adviser, that people without a passport can use to demonstrate their identity.
  • Exemptions for emergency accommodation, including hostels and domestic violence refuges, and any accommodation that councils use to house people in.
  • A code of practice for landlords which makes clear the penalties they will face if they discriminate against tenants on the grounds of race or nationality.
  • An expert advisory panel, which Crisis sits on, has been set up to help the Immigration Minister make improvements to the scheme.
  • A pilot was run and evaluated in Birmingham to inform the roll out of the scheme.
  • But this isn’t enough. The evaluation of the pilot found that local charities reported the scheme was causing homelessness. There was also some evidence of racial discrimination and awareness was very low amongst tenants. Nevertheless, the government chose to roll out the scheme across England.

    At Crisis, we will do what we can to prepare our own clients to get the documents they need to prove their immigration status, and we will support other housing advisers to do likewise.

    The government has to do more to ensure this policy won’t make people homeless. At the very least, we are calling on the Home Office to carry out a full evaluation to monitor those unintended consequences that could be so devastating for the people affected.

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