Under the Right to Rent, landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants with the prospect of prosecution if they know or have “reasonable cause to believe” that the property they are letting is occupied by someone who does not have the right to rent in the UK.
It was introduced by Theresa May in 2016, then Home Secretary as a key plank of the government’s hostile environment for illegal immigrants.
Today at the High Court, Mr Justice Martin Spencer ruled that the scheme breached the European Convention on Human Rights on the basis that it led to discrimination against non-UK nationals with the right to rent and British ethnic minorities.
Justice Spencer noted that discrimination by landlords was taking place “because of the scheme” and concluded that “the government’s own evaluation failed to consider discrimination on grounds of nationality at all, only on grounds of ethnicity.”
He added that it was entirely “logical and wholly predicable” that landlords would discriminate given the potential penalties.
And he was highly critical of the government’s approach: “The safeguards used by the government to avoid discrimination, namely online guidance, telephone advice and codes of conduct and practice, have proved ineffective,” he said.
“In my judgment, in those circumstances, the government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”
However, the government has been given permission to appeal and is considering whether to do so.
Damning critique of government
The case was brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and supported by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and Liberty.
The RLA and the JCWI have written to the Home Secretary seeking an urgent meeting.
RLA policy manager John Stewart called the ruling a “damning critique of a flagship government policy”.
“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,” he said.
“We call on the government to accept the decision, scrap the Right to Rent, and consider what else can be done to sensibly manage migration, without having to rely on untrained landlords to do the job of the Home Office.”
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants legal policy director Chai Patel added his voice to the calls for the policy to be scrapped.
“There is no place for racism in the UK housing market. Now that the High Court has confirmed that Theresa May’s policy actively causes discrimination, Parliament must act immediately to scrap it,” he said.
“But 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.”