Making housing about immigration continues to be a toxic mix

Back in late 2015, when the details about making landlords check the immigration status of prospective tenants was being debated in parliament, housing and migrant groups repeatedly warned government that this would lead to discrimination, and push vulnerable renters into precarious and hidden housing.

Today a new report from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) on the 'Right to Rent' scheme confirms that warning, with shocking findings of non-British and non-white renters finding it more difficult to access a new tenancy.

The research is based on a survey of private landlords, lettings agents and organisations working with affected groups, as well as a mystery shopping exercise in which inquiries were made about properties, purportedly from individuals with different nationalities, migration statuses, and documentation, but all of whom had a right to rent in the UK.

The findings of the research show that:

  • 51% of surveyed landlords said they were less likely to let to foreign national from outside the EU;
  • 18% of landlords were less likely to let to EU nationals;
  • 42% of landlords were less likely to rent to anyone who did not hold a British passport;
  • In scenarios where researchers posed as both 'white British' and BME renters without passports, the BME tenant was 14% more likely to receive a negative response from a landlord, 25% less likely to be offered a viewing, and 20% less likely to be told the property is available;
  • Where a passport was held, no real evidence of discrimination occurred between offers to 'white British' and BME renters, indicating that Right to Rent directly influenced discrimination.

Barriers to finding a home were even higher for the most vulnerable tenants - asylum seekers, stateless persons, and victims of modern day slavery. The legislation requires them to ask the landlord to do a check with the Home Office to confirm they are allowed to rent - but 85% of mystery shopping inquiries went completely unanswered. 

 The research also found that over a quarter of landlords were unaware of their obligations or had not heard of Right to Rent at all, and that local authorities were not in a position to work with the scheme, with 81% of councils who responded saying they had no measures in place to monitor homelessness or discrimination as a result of Right to Rent.

JCWI is recommending that Right to Rent be scrapped as soon as possible.

Alongside pointing to the discrimination is has engendered, they also highlight the lack of evidence that the scheme is in any way targetting rogue landlords who are targeting vulnerable tenants, and that government as no means to properly monitor the policy.

While it continues to be in place, amongst other things, they are calling for better information for landlords and tenants, an independent evaluation of the scheme and proper oversight from local authorities. You can read the full report here.

As many predicted, and is now borne out by the evidence, intertwining immigration enforcement with housing policy - which is fundamentally about meeting a human need - is a recipe for discrimination and harm against some of the most vulnerable renters in the UK.

The housing sector opposes Right to Rent, landlords' groups have come out against it, and organisations working with migrants and non-UK nationals have seen its problems first-hand.

The politics of immigration will continue to dominate the airwaves and column inches, in a cacophony of misinformation and bad faith, and government needs to get serious about countering the harm this will cause to anyone identified as 'foreign' or a 'migrant'.

One way to do this would be to show that they properly understand the evidence and concerns of this report, by immediately scrapping Right to Rent, and ending the toxic mix that is immigration policy and housing.

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