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Report says England’s Right to Rent scheme is “causing racial discrimination” and should be abandoned

A new report from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has found that migrants, British citizens without passports and Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups living in England are being discriminated against when searching for a home in the Private Rented Sector (PRS), due to the Government’s Right to Rent Scheme.  

The Right to Rent Scheme is not currently operational in Northern Ireland, although the Home Office has indicated that it is their intention to extend the residential tenancy measures from the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts to Northern Ireland in the future.  There is currently no specific timeframe for the extension of these measures to Northern Ireland.

The report surveyed over 300 landlords/agents and found that landlords were less inclined to rent their property to certain groups:

  • 51% were less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals from outside the EU
  • 42% were less likely to rent to anyone who does not hold a British passport
  • 45% were less likely to rent to anyone with permission to stay in the UK for a limited time-period.

Landlords hesitant to rent to those without a British passport

The report also carried out a mystery shopping exercise, emailing landlords and agents with enquiries from prospective tenants. It found that:

  • Prospective white British tenants without a passport were 11% more likely to receive no or a negative response than those with a passport.
  • Prospective BME British tenants without a passport were 26% more likely to receive no or a negative response than those with a passport.
  • 58% of enquiries from prospective BME British tenants without a passport received no or a negative response.
  • There was no evidence of racial discrimination when both the prospective BME British and white British tenants had a passport.  This “strongly suggests that the discrimination found is as a result of the Right to Rent Scheme, rather than latent discrimination by racists landlords”.
  • 85% of enquiries from the most vulnerable individuals (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, received no response at all from landlords.

The heavy fines and risk of imprisonment should landlords fail to comply with the scheme means that landlords are hesitant to rent to prospective tenants who do not have a British passport or who do not “appear […] to be British”.  JCWI’s research suggests that the Right to Rent scheme subjects landlords to structural incentives which result in unlawful discrimination against people who are entitled to access housing in the UK.

JCWI calls for Right to Rent to be abolished

In addition to the discrimination identified as a result of the Right to Rent Scheme, JCWI has further concerns about the Scheme:

  • Landlords’ awareness and understanding of the Right to Rent Scheme is low, with 27% feeling that they hadn’t understood their obligations or were entirely unaware of the scheme, and 49% saying they hadn’t read the Code of Practice explaining how to avoid discrimination
  • The majority of local authorities have not made plans to mitigate against the negative impact of the Right to Rent scheme, with 81% stating they had not put systems in place to monitor homelessness or discrimination occurring as a result of the scheme
  • The Right to Rent scheme is not being adequately monitored to measure whether it is working as intended, if it is causing discrimination or the impact on landlords and their agents
  • Enforcement of the scheme is low and there is no evidence to suggest that it is encouraging irregular migrants to leave the UK

In their report, JCWI call for the Government to abandon the Right to Rent scheme and to immediately halt any plans to roll it out across the UK:

“The Right to Rent scheme must be halted and abandoned.  Requiring document checks by landlords and agents as a form of immigration control is disproportionate and is being implemented in a discriminatory manner. It is not justified as there is no clear evidence that the scheme is working to encourage irregular migrants to leave the UK, or effectively targeting rogue landlords who exploit migrants.”

The Right to Rent Scheme

The Right to Rent Scheme was designed to deny irregular migrants access to a range of services, with the expectation that this would lead them to voluntarily leave the UK.  The scheme is currently only in operation in England, although there is the intention to implement the same scheme in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Under the Immigration Act 2014 (“the 2014 Act”), individuals who do not have a legal right to remain in the UK are disqualified from occupying residences under a residential tenancy agreement.  The 2014 Act requires landlords and their agents to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants.  Landlords or agents who fail to conduct these checks and enter into a tenancy agreement with a person who does not have a Right to Rent face a fine of up to £3,000.  The Immigration Act 2016 introduced a further penalty of a possible prison sentence of up to 5 years for landlords and their agents who knowingly allow an irregular immigrant occupy a property.

Tagged In

Minority Groups, Research, Equality, Landlord


Lizzie Scott

This article was written on 14 February 2017. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.