LegalforLandlords’ MD, Sim Sekhon, calls for a Rethink on Right to Rent

It’s two years since right to rent checks were implemented in England, and the Government is still planning to extend the scheme to the rest of the UK. This is despite scant evidence to show the checks are having the desired effect. There is, however, mounting evidence that they are resulting in discrimination and causing genuine hardship for some vulnerable people.

Two groups are bringing cases to court which illustrate the problems. In the first, a woman who entered the UK as a student applied to the Home Office to extend her stay. The Home Office lost her passport and she hasn’t been able to replace it. She is now effectively stateless, and lawyers are saying her treatment contravenes the Human Rights Act. In the second case, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) claims that the legislation is disproportionate and discriminatory.

Unintended consequences

One of the Governments main justifications for the scheme was its assertion that it would result in irregular migrants leaving the country. The logic being that they would not remain if they were unable to secure housing. But I’d like to know where the evidence is to prove the scheme is working. According to the JCWI, the number of irregular migrants leaving voluntarily has actually declined.

During consultations and when the scheme was trialled, landlords and trade bodies pointed out the obvious – the checks would cause discrimination. Research carried out by the JCWI shows that this is happening. In summary, 51% of landlords said that right to rent checks would make them less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals, 42% were less likely to rent to a potential tenant without a British passport. Even if you have the right to reside in the UK, or even if you are a British citizen, without a British passport, your ethnicity will impact on the likelihood of you securing a tenancy.

The Home Office would claim that they have provided adequate support for landlords faced with their new immigration ‘policing’ role. They stress that discrimination is unlawful, but they have also tabled stiff penalties. It’s understandable that landlords are cautious.

The costs and the benefits

The estimated number of checks required is huge – some 2.5 million people each year – resulting in a massive extra administrative burden. Landlords don’t get into property rental to guard the nation’s borders and shouldn’t face the costs of doing so. But there’s something else that’s not making the headlines. The scheme either isn’t finding large numbers of irregular migrants or cannot prove it is.

In the first eight months of the scheme, just 31 people were removed from the UK as a result. And, but in a written answer to the House of Commons in January 2017, the Minister of State for Immigration, Robert Goodwill, said that data was no longer routinely collected about right to rent because it would be prohibitively expensive.

We’re having to operate a scheme that costs our industry a fortune, probably isn’t working and is resulting in hardship and discrimination. That can’t be right, can it?

Instead of extending the reach of the scheme, I believe our Government should have a rethink. It’s possible these new court cases may well force them to do so.