Right-to-Rent: Sim Sekhon asks “What now?”

Just over a year ago, I called for the Government to rethink its policy on Right to Rent checks. You can read my arguments here but in summary, I was concerned that landlords shouldn’t be put in the position of policing immigration and further that the checks would give rise to discrimination. Now, Mr Justice Martin Spencer has ruled in the High Court that the checks breach the European Convention on Human Rights because they lead to discrimination against British ethnic minorities and those non-UK nationals who have a right to reside.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has been vocal on the issue and partnered with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) in bringing the case. They have now written to the Home Secretary, expressing their desire for a meeting to discuss the next steps. I expect that they’ll ask for the Right to Rent scheme to be dropped because it’s not working in the way the Government intended, and as JCWI Legal Policy Director Chai Patel points out, it is resulting in unacceptable racism within the housing market.

The majority of landlords aren’t discriminating intentionally. It’s the scheme that’s driving the behaviour. Threatened with stiff penalties, landlords have tried to comply, but they aren’t immigration experts and the Government’s support lines haven’t been effective in easing concerns. Legitimate citizens without paperwork are disadvantaged, and it doesn’t even seem as though the scheme has done anything to stem the flow of illegal immigration. Those willing to ignore the rules, still ignore them.

I understand that some agents and landlords are quite happy to administer and operate under the scheme. I know some landlords are reassured by knowing the legal residency status of their tenants. But I’ve spoken to other agents with legitimate potential tenants who have been stressed by the process. A great many British nationals don’t have passports. You only have to remember the distress caused last year to many on the Windrush Scheme to understand something of the problem.

Preventing illegal immigration is not the responsibility of landlords, but by forcing them down this route, the Government has effectively caused an increase in discrimination. The High Court ruling should force a change and prevent the roll-out of the scheme across the rest of the UK, but don’t count on it. Governments normally add to the rule book rather than erasing something when it doesn’t work.