The government is being challenged in the High Court over a “racist” policy which forces landlords in England to check the immigration status of potential tenants.
Cross-party MPs, landlords and immigration lawyers have raised concerns about the “Right to Rent” scheme, a key branch of the government’s attempt to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, warning that it risks putting people at risk of homelessness and exploitation.
The policy was introduced as part of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ measures in 2015, and requires landlords to check that a tenant or lodger can legally rent a residential property in England. Assurances had been given to parliament that it would be thoroughly and transparently evaluated – but no such evaluation has yet taken place.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which is launching the legal challenge, warned that forcing landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants “incentivises discrimination” in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and must be reviewed before it is rolled out any further.
Chai Patel, the legal policy director at JCWI, told The Independent the policy created a system which “incentivises landlords to act in racist ways” and accused the ministers of “burying their head in the sand” by failing to monitor how it’s working in practice.
“Even if landlords have no desire to discriminate or be prejudiced, because they’re risking fines or having to find a new tenant, many landlords will pick people with British passports over people who don’t have them,” he said.
“It’s systemic discrimination. At a time when lots of people can’t find housing, ethnic minorities and people who are not British are being put at a further disadvantage. That might mean people become homeless, it might mean they get forced into accommodation with landlords who are exploiting them.
“At the very least the government should evaluate the scheme and start monitoring in properly before it extends it to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. As we saw from Windrush, immigration status can be really difficult to ascertain.”
It comes as a cross-party group of MPs has written to the home secretary requesting a review of the controversial scheme, urging him to bring it to an “immediate end”.
In their open letter to Sajid Javid, MPs including Diane Abbott, Harriet Harman, Caroline Lucas and Tom Brake warned that the Right to Rent scheme risked putting people at risk of homelessness and may increase the risk of modern slavery and trafficking.
“Whilst we believe that the government should bring this policy to an immediate end, the government must, at the very least, commit to evaluating this scheme thoroughly, particularly as it risks putting people at risk of homelessness and may increase the risk of modern slavery and trafficking,” said the MPs.
“We, therefore, ask that you implement the recommendations set out by the ICIBI [Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration] as a matter of urgency and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.”
They said the Windrush scandal had provided a “stark warning of the consequences that can be expected when ministers and officials fail to respond to repeated warnings of experts about the impact of their policies”.
A report on the Right to Rent scheme by the ICIBI in March found the scheme had yet demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance.
The watchdog was particularly concerned with the lack of any monitoring or evaluation mechanisms that would allow the government to ascertain whether the scheme was having its intended effect, and recommended ministers create a new consultative panel to take on this task – but the government rejected the ICIBI recommendations.
A separate independent evaluation of the Right to Rent scheme, carried out by the JCWI, found no evidence that the policy will achieve its stated aim to deter irregular migration but does increase discrimination against those who look or sound foreign.
This is supported by evidence from Shelter and the Residential Landlords Association which consistently shows almost half of landlords declaring that they will engage in unlawfully discriminatory practices as a result of the Right to Rent scheme.
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