The government’s Right to Rent Scheme Encourages Racism
Chai Patel is Legal & Policy Director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). Chai joined JCWI in 2015 having covered a period of maternity leave for the Policy Director at the Migrants Rights Network. Prior to that he was in the Human Rights department at Leigh Day, working on abuse and human rights claims, and on the death penalty team at Reprieve, focussing on international strategic litigation, casework, and investigation. Chai studied English Literature at UCL, and later converted to Law. He was called to the Bar in 2010 and later cross-qualified as a solicitor.
Our new report shows that the government’s right to rent scheme, which requires private landlords to act as border guards, has turned back the clock over 50 years, by incentivising racial discrimination in the English housing market.
This policy came into being as part of a host of measures designed to create a ‘hostile environment’ for ‘illegal’ migrants, by denying them access to services such as healthcare, banking and driving licenses. We have argued, alongside other organisations, that these measures would create a hostile environment for anyone who looked or sounded foreign, or who could not produce the right paperwork on request.
You cannot tell whether someone is an irregular migrant just by looking at them, but the ‘hostile environment’ is predicated on landlords, doctors, nurses, banks, and others all carrying out assessments of immigration status.
Under such a system, which requires countless checks to be carried out every day by untrained and unpaid immigration enforcement draftees, ethnic minorities, those with foreign accents, and the millions of British citizens who do not own passports are all at risk. Landlords faced with a fine of up £3,000 or even a prison sentence of up to five years do not want to take any risks.
When faced with a choice of tenants they will pick those who seem like a safer bet. In response to our surveys, 51% of landlords said they would be less likely to consider letting to people from outside Europe as a result of the scheme. When asked to consider the consequences of the new criminal penalties, 48% said they would be less likely to rent to anyone without a British passport.
Previously the government has dismissed evidence of the consequences of the scheme. Even where their own evaluation found real evidence of discrimination under the scheme it was brushed away as not amounting to ‘hard’ evidence. So the scheme was rolled out across England in February 2016.
Our new report uncovers the hard evidence of discrimination which the government has refused to look for. We conducted a set of mystery shopping exercises and what we found was shocking.
The BME mystery shopper was 26% more likely to be ignored or receive a negative response than a BME shopper with a passport and the white tenant was at a disadvantage, but to a lesser extent. This means that all British citizens are at a disadvantage if they don’t have a passport - 17% of the UK population. Interestingly, there was no evidence of discrimination where both the white and BME mystery shoppers had British passports.
This suggests that when the scheme places landlords in a situation where they have to assess risks, and a clear document is not available, they are relying on assumptions about who seems ‘more British’. The right to rent scheme encourages racist outcomes.
Foreign nationals with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and a full right to rent, are being discriminated against too. They are 20% more likely to receive a negative or no response to enquiries about properties than a British citizen.
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable people - asylum seekers and victims of modern day slavery who require landlords to do an online check with the Home Office - face huge obstacles. Out of a 150 emails from a mystery shopper requesting that landlords conduct an online check, 85% received no response at all. Only three responses indicated a willingness to go through the online checking process.
The scheme is supposed to target irregular migrants and rogue landlords, but most irregular migrants don’t rent private property and rogue landlords are only too happy to have their victims denied access to the legitimate and safe parts of the property market.
Astonishingly, there is no adequate monitoring in place to see if the scheme is encouraging irregular migrants to leave the UK, or whether it is simply driving them into the hands of the rogue landlords it was supposed to target. Since the scheme began, the government can identify just 31 individuals who have left as a result.
Nor is there a system to measure the impacts on homelessness, on immigration enforcement generally, or on the costs to landlords and to local authorities who may have to deal with the consequences of families and children being unable to rent privately.
A scheme that incentivises racial discrimination and that cannot be shown to have any positive effect would not have had any place in our laws in 1968. It cannot be justified today. Any proposed further expansion of the scheme to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be halted pending a full evaluation. In light of these findings, we are calling on the government to halt the right to rent scheme immediately.
This is an edited version of a blog that first appeared in the Huffington Post