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JCWI slams Right to Rent checks

Wednesday 15 February 2017

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) have presented evidence which shows that Right to Rent checks are discriminating against British citizens.

The report Passport Please examines the impact of the Right to Rent Scheme which was introduced by the Government to crack down on illegal immigrants.

The Right to Rent scheme

The Immigration Act 2014 and the Immigration Act 2016 contain the provisions for the Right to Rent scheme and applies to England.

Under the scheme, agents and landlords must carry out Right to Rent checks before letting a property to adult tenants. Tenants, including British citizens, must prove that they have the right to live in the UK by providing acceptable forms of ID which agents and landlords must check, as set out in the Code of Practice

This has led many agents to claim that they feel like they have effectively become 'unpaid' border guards. This is coupled with widespread concerns that the scheme is ripe for discrimination whereby landlords take the 'easy option' and only let to 'English sounding' white tenants, with less apparent fear of being penalised for making genuine errors when carrying out the checks. 

If suitable ID cannot be provided, the agent or landlord must go through the Landlords Checking Service.

Agents and landlords can face civil penalties of up to £3000 and up to five years in prison if they knowingly allow illegal immigrant to rent their property and do not take steps to remove them once they become aware. 

The report

JCWI say that the most vulnerable individuals are at greatest risk of all from Right to Rent scheme and that the permission to rent process is Kafkaesque. In light of their findings which show discrimination on a large scale they have said: "this failed experiment should be abandoned and the Right to Rent scheme must be abolished".

The JCWI report is based on research conducted since February 2016 (when the scheme came into force across England). Although the number of responses to the main survey was fairly small (208 agents and 108 landlords), when combined with the results of a mystery shopping exercise and an examination of how the Government is monitoring and enforcing the scheme, the findings make for quite a powerful message.

Key findings 

The research revealed that there was widespread discrimination as a result of the Right to Rent Scheme.  

'White British' tenants were 11% more likely to receive a negative response or no response if they didn't hold a passport, compared to 26% of British Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) tenants.

Survey feedback from agents

  • 16 agents stated that landlords had indicated an unwillingness to rent to 'people with a time-limited permission to remain in the UK' or 'people with a time-limited Right to Rent as a result of the scheme. 11 of these agents managed over 100 properties. 

  • 5 agents stated that landlords had indicated that they were less willing to rent property to people who 'look' or sound foreign' 

  • 8 agents surveyed stated that landlords had expressed an unwillingness to rent to tenants who do not hold a British passport as a direct result of the scheme.

  • JCWI found no discrimination between the BME and 'white British' scenarios where both had a passport, leading JCWI to conclude that "This strongly suggests that the discrimination found is the result of the Right to Rent Scheme, rather than latent discrimination by racist landlords"   

Survey feedback from landlords

  • 51% of landlords surveyed said that the scheme would make them less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals from outside the EU. 

  • 42% of landlords stated that they were less likely to rent to someone without a British Passport as a result of the scheme. 

Mystery Shopping

  • An enquiry from a British Black Minority Ethnic (BME) tenant without a passport was ignored or turned down by 58% of landlords, in a mystery shopping exercise

  • The mystery shopping scenario in which the prospective tenant was not British but had indefinite leave to remain in the UK was 20% more likely to receive a negative response or no response compared to a British citizen

Permission to Rent and the most vulnerable

JCWI say that the most vulnerable are individuals such as asylum seekers and victims of modern day slavery who do not have a right to rent but may be entitled to permission to rent.

They explain that landlords are told only to do an online check when a tenant tells them they have permission to rent but the Home Office is only required to inform tenants of their permission to rent status if they make their own enquiries, and many tenants won’t know whether they have it.

JCWI argues that most tenants could not be expected even to know what permission to rent is, considering that no specific outreach about the scheme has targeted tenants.

Monitoring

JCWI assessed the level of monitoring through Freedom of Information requests to local authorities and Parliamentary question. They highlight the fact that to date, out of 654 individuals reported to the Home Office, only 31 have been deported. They cite a lack of monitoring, effectively bringing into question whether the whole scheme has just been a massive and expensive administration exercise which has had little impact on dealing with illegal immigrants. 

HERE'S A QUICK REMINDER OF HOW TO CARRY OUT CHECKS

  • Establish who will be living in the property
  • Carry out the checks on all adult occupiers
  • Retain the documentation until 12 months from the end of the tenancy
  • Be ready to produce evidence of the checks if required

If the tenant is only allowed to be in the UK for a limited period of time, you will have to carry out follow-up checks at a later date. Note the dates for this.

USEFUL INFORMATION

  • The Government has set up an easy to follow five step online guide where you can check if your tenant has the right to rent.

  • Download the latest Code of Practice for agents and landlords, where you can also find a list of acceptable documents (section 5.2).  

Top tip: When updating your landlord Terms of Business don’t forget to include Right to Rent checks.