A British man and his family have been made homeless after being told they could not rent a property in the UK because his wife was not eligible to rent under Home Office rules – despite the fact that she has the right to live in Britain.
Rory McCormick, 55, put a deposit down on a house in Suffolk after receiving a job offer in the area. He, his Russian wife Anna, and their two daughters, aged four and seven months, had been due to move from Ireland into the property on Tuesday.
But days before the move-in date, Mr McCormick was told by his letting agency, William H Brown, that his wife’s Irish residency card would not be accepted because, while it established her right to reside in the UK, it did not qualify under the Home Office’s right to rent guidance.
The case has prompted fresh criticism of the government’s right to rent policy, a key branch of Theresa May’s attempt to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, which requires landlords in England to check the immigration status of prospective tenants.
Campaigners said the case demonstrated how “bureaucratic incompetence” and “poorly explained and complex laws” which landlords and estate agents are required to follow under the policy were having “disastrous consequences” for families who risk homelessness as a result.
Having already moved out of their home in County Wexford in Ireland, but being unable to move into the new property, Mr McCormick and his family were currently staying with his sister in the east of England, sharing one bedroom between four of them.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr McCormick, who works for a tour operator, said: “It is incredibly stressful, as a husband and father, to realise that I may not be able to put a roof over my family’s head because of a pedantic and unlawful guide issued by the Home Office.
“My children do not deserve to be treated in this way, nor do I or my wife.
“I am an Englishman, I served for nine years in the army, I have worked since I was 16 years old and it breaks my heart that my own government seems quite content to make a British citizen, his two British daughters and lawfully resident wife, homeless.”
In an email to Mr McCormick, the letting agency William H Brown claimed that “right to rent isn’t the same as right to reside” and said they would risk facing legal action if they failed to abide by the Home Office rules.
Responding to the case, Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “The home secretary claims to have ended the ‘hostile environment’ but incidents like these show that is completely untrue.
“Instead, what we are actually witnessing is the extension of those terrible policies towards wider groups all the time, not just all the people from the Commonwealth. The hostile environment must go, and Labour in government will end it.”
Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), accused ministers of, through the hostile environment, “enlisting ordinary people – from doctors to teachers to estate agents – in amateur border enforcement”.
He added: “For a family of four, moving back to the UK from another country is likely to be a stressful enough experience as it is. But for Rory and Anna, they face another level of uncertainty about whether they would ever be able to live together in the UK at all.
“This has disastrous consequences for families who risk homelessness owing to bureaucratic incompetence and poorly explained and complex laws. Landlords and estate agents are simply not qualified to carry out immigration checks, and Sajid Javid needs to stop trying to make them do so, particularly given the numbers of European nationals who are going to be unable to prove their status after Brexit.”
The right to rent policy has previously come under fire from cross-party MPs, landlords and immigration lawyers warning that it risks putting people at risk of homelessness and exploitation.
It is currently being challenged in the High Court over claims that it “incentivises discrimination” in breach of the law.
A William H Brown spokesperson said: ‘We certainly do not discriminate against any applicant tenants and we are simply following the Home Office right to rent regulations.
“Unfortunately, the guidance that we have been given from the Home Office landlord checking service, based on the documents that the applicant has supplied, contradicts the advice given to the applicant and, in order to urgently resolve this, we are seeking further clarification from the Home Office.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “An Article 10 residence card issued by the Republic of Ireland helps to demonstrate a right of entry into the UK. It does not confer the right to rent in the UK.
“If an individual has applied for but not yet received a UK permanent residence card, they should have the right to rent in the UK. As made clear in our online guidance for landlords, in such cases prospective landlords can use the landlord checking service to provide confirmation of an applicant’s right to rent.
“We are writing to the family in this case to clarify their position.”
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