Housing

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

London, England, United Kingdom - February 11, 2015: FOR SALE and TO LET real estate agent signs outside residential housing development in Hackney. Many house rental and sales agency signs in a row. Multiple sign boards.

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.”

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.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Labour promises wave of new towns if elected. But will they make a dent in UK's housing crisis?
Angela Rayner announces Labour new town plan
Housing

Labour promises wave of new towns if elected. But will they make a dent in UK's housing crisis?

Over 90,000 households threatened with no-fault evictions since Tories promised to ban them
Renters angry at no-fault evictions, Renters Reform Bill delay and a lack of rent controls
RENTING

Over 90,000 households threatened with no-fault evictions since Tories promised to ban them

Starmer warned over glaring omission in Labour's six general election pledges: 'I'm disappointed'
Housing crisis

Starmer warned over glaring omission in Labour's six general election pledges: 'I'm disappointed'

Scottish government is declaring a national housing emergency – but what does it actually mean?
Scottish first minister John Swinney
Housing

Scottish government is declaring a national housing emergency – but what does it actually mean?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know