‘Right to Rent’ legislation was introduced in England in 2016 to help discourage illegal residence in the UK. Landlords and agents are currently required to check their prospective tenants’ original documentation – such as a passport, identity card or work visa – to confirm that they are legally able to live and work in the country.
However, the High Court has recently ruled that the scheme breaches the Human Rights Act and it would therefore be illegal to roll it out across the rest of the UK without further evaluation. This was after it was presented with evidence showing that Right to Rent was causing landlords to discriminate against tenants on the basis of their nationality and ethnicity.
Independent evidence had been gathered by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, where identical applications to rent property were made, but with key personal details changed. It found that where people had UK passports, there was no evidence of discrimination based on ethnicity, but where the applicant did not have a typical white British name, they were less successful in gaining a tenancy. As a result, a judge concluded that the scheme not only gives landlords the opportunity to discriminate but actually “causes them to do so where otherwise they might not”, because a landlord who may be worried about possible prosecution under the scheme might be tempted to refuse a tenant based on their ethnicity.
The judge went on to state that Right to Rent has had little or no effect on controlling immigration and, even where it might have, that benefit was “significantly outweighed by the discriminatory effect".
While the Home Office says it is disappointed by the ruling, the Residential Landlord’s Association has been pleased by the outcome. Their own previous research had revealed private landlords were indeed less likely to rent to people without a British passport or on temporary working visas purely because of a fear of getting things wrong under Right to Rent. And with a maximum penalty of five years in prison, there’s little wonder some landlords are apprehensive about accepting foreign nationals, particularly in cases where they might not be familiar with the documentation tenants are presenting them with.
Even though landlords can request a right to rent check from the Home Office if they are unsure of the validity of documents (details available on the GOV.UK website), given that the legal responsibility for checking still lies with them, the RLA is firmly of the opinion that the policy has turned landlords into "untrained and unwilling border police".
As for what this means for the future of Right to Rent, we will have to wait and see; meanwhile, landlords in England must continue to make the checks. The Home Office has been granted the right to appeal and it’s likely that it will, saying that another independent study found no evidence of systematic discrimination in the policy. However, with an Immigration Bill already due to come before Parliament to resolve issues thrown up by the impending Brexit, it may be that under that Bill, Right to Rent is either amended or possibly removed from the statue book altogether. We will, of course, let you know as soon as any further updates are available.