The Right to Rent scheme was brought in by the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts – despite heavy criticism of the piloting phase of the provisions – and is currently only in operation in England. The government intend to roll out the scheme across the rest of the UK: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The provisions brought in by the 2014 Immigration Act disqualified people without the legal right to remain in the UK from occupying residences under a residential tenancy agreement. Landlords and their agents have a duty to carry out immigration checks on all adults who will occupy a property, before entering into a tenancy agreement. Under the 2014 provisions, landlords or agents who failed to do this could face a civil penalty of up to £3000.
The 2016 Act, under provisions that came into force on 1 December 2016, added a possible prison sentence of up to five years if landlords/agents knowingly allowed someone without the right to rent to occupy a property under a residential tenancy agreement and did not try and remove them from the property once they became aware of this. The 2016 Act also gave landlords new powers to end tenancies and in some cases evict tenants without a court order.
Since the provisions were first announced, many organisations have warned that the scheme will lead to discrimination against people trying to rent that ‘seem a bit foreign’.
As JCWI say in the executive summary of their new report:
To assess these concerns, JCWI undertook an independent evaluation of the Right to Rent pilot, which was published in September 2015. The independent evaluation found that landlords were less likely torent to those without British passports, those with complicated immigration status, and people with ‘foreign accents or names’ as a result of the scheme. In addition, tenants had been wrongly refused tenancies owing to confusion among landlords and there were a number of worrying reports of harassment by landlords.
Following widespread concern about discrimination amongst parliamentarians during the passage of the 2014 Act, assurances were made that the Home Office would evaluate the pilot before any further roll-out. In spite of this, the Government made the decision to roll out the provisions nationwide and announced new criminal penalties and powers of eviction before the publication of the Home Office evaluation. This raises the question whether these concerns were ever effectively assessed before the decision was made to roll out and expand the scheme. The Home Office evaluation (not published until October 2015 after the new measures had been tabled) also found concerning evidence of discrimination in their mystery shopping exercise, as well as landlords indicating that they would be less likely to rent to certain groups.
JCWI’s report is based on research undertaken since the civil penalty scheme came into force nationwide in England from February 2016.
Their research has found that:
- Foreign nationals are being discriminated against. Over half of landlord’s surveyed (51%) stated that they are now less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals from outside the EU. Almost a fifth (18%) were less likely to rent to EU nationals as well. The mystery shopping scenario in which the prospective tenant was not British, but had indefinite leave to remain in the UK, was also 20% more likely to receive a negative response or no response compared to a British citizen.
- Landlords are also less willing to accept tenants who do not hold a British passport as a result of the scheme. 42% of landlords who responded to JCWI’s survey stated that they were less likely to rent to anyone who does not have a British passport. This rose to almost half (48%) of landlords when they were explicitly asked to consider the new criminal sanction. In addition, eight agents surveyed stated that landlords had expressed an unwillingness to rent to tenants who do not hold a British passport as a direct result of the scheme.
- The ‘white British’ tenant without a passport was 11% more likely to receive a negative response or no response than the ‘white British’ tenant with a passport.
- The BME British tenant without a passport was 26% more likely to receive a negative response or no response than the BME tenant who could provide a British passport. Overall, the British BME tenant who did not have a passport received a negative response or no response to his enquiries 58% of the time.
- Where both ‘white’ and BME British citizens do not have passports, the BME tenant faces clear racial discrimination. The BME tenant was 14% more likely to receive a negative response from a landlord, or not to receive a response at all. The BME tenant without a passport was also 25% less likely to be offered a viewing and 20% less likely to be told the property is available. Interestingly, we found no evidence of racial discrimination between the BME and ‘white British’ scenarios where both had a British passport. This strongly suggests that the discrimination found is as a result of the Right to Rent scheme, rather than latent discrimination by racist landlords. Five agents also stated that landlords had indicated that they were less willing to rent property to people who ‘look or sound foreign’ as a result of the Right to Rent scheme.
- 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, face the greatest barrier of all. Out of 150 mystery shopping enquiries from prospective tenants who asked landlords to conduct an online check, 85% received no response.
- Migrants who are legally residing in the UK with ‘leave to remain’ for a time-limited period may be treated less favourably as a consequence of the Right to Rent scheme. 65% of organisations surveyed stated that migrants with a time-limited right to remain in the UK had been adversely affected by the Right to Rent scheme. In addition, 45% of landlords stated that they were less likely to rent to anyone with ‘permission to stay in the UK for a limited time-period’.
The report also finds that the government is failing to adequately monitor the scheme to measure whether it is working as intended, and whether it is causing discrimination; that awareness and understanding of the scheme and its obligations among landlords is low; and that local authorities are inadequately prepared to respond to negative consequences of the scheme.
A Hostile Environment, at the expense of us all
The dangers of this scheme were made clear to the government from the start and have been overwhelmingly confirmed. The scheme has made it harder for people to rent even when they have the legal right to do so. Beyond that, it encourages discrimination, further division in our communities and the denial of people’s fundamental right to live with dignity.
Right to Remain joins with JCWI in calling for an immediate halt and abandonment of this discriminatory and unworkable scheme.