Right to Rent breaches human rights law and fuels racism, High Court rules

Landlords being responsible for checking tenants' immigration status is boosting discrimination and turning them into 'untrained border police', the High Court agreed

The Right to Rent scheme is a vehicle for racism and xenophobia, a High Court judge has ruled.

Under the initiative, introduced in 2015, landlords are responsible for checking tenants’ immigration statuses, and are told they could be prosecuted if they have even reasonable cause to believe they are letting a property to someone without the right to rent in the UK.

Campaigners said the requirement turns landlords into “untrained border police”.

The scheme, which Mr Justice Spencer said breaches human rights law, was introduced by Theresa May as Home Secretary as part of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy package designed to target illegal immigrants.

Landlords can be fined up to £3,000 for every person without the right to rent found in a property.

The case was brought against the government by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) teamed up with human rights campaign group Liberty to intervene and have the policy declared as incompatible with human rights – because it leads to discrimination against non-UK nationals as well as British ethnic minorities.

The judge concluded that “the government’s own evaluation failed to consider discrimination on grounds of nationality at all, only on grounds of ethnicity”.

He said that the Right to Rent scheme does not just provide the opportunity for private landlords to discriminate against non-UK nationals and British ethnic minorities, but “causes them to do so where otherwise they would not”.

The safeguards put in place by the government to avoid discrimination (such as online guidance and telephone advice) proved ineffective, the judge said, adding that “the government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place”.

Research by the RLA showed that 44 per cent of private landlords were less likely to rent to someone without a British passport, out of fear of getting it wrong.

A fifth of those surveyed also admitted they were less likely to consider letting a property to EU or EEA nationals.

In 2018, Liberty argued that the “nasty” policy could exacerbate homelessness and impact “some of the most vulnerable families”.

John Stewart, policy manager for the RLA, said today’s ruling is a “damning critique of a flagship government policy.”

He added: “We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.”

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Oxford University research suggested that people born outside the UK were almost three times as likely to be private renting than the UK-born population.

Legal policy director for the JCWI Chai Patel said: “There is no place for racism in the UK housing market.

“We all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals, and schools.

“Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the hostile environment must be dismantled.”

The campaigners are now calling for the government to scrap the Right to Rent scheme and come up with an alternative, and have written to the Home Office to request an urgent meeting.