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Right to Rent breaches human rights law

Thursday 07 March 2019

The government’s Right to Rent scheme is in breach of human rights law, the High Court has ruled.

The scheme means 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 as Home Secretary as a key plank of the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) joined with Liberty to intervene in a case brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants to have the policy declared as incompatible with human rights on the grounds that it was leading to discrimination against non-UK nationals who might be in the country legitimately and British ethnic minorities.

Delivering his verdict in 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.

In what the RLA describes as "a damning verdict" Mr Justice Spencer concluded that discrimination by landlords was taking place “because of the Scheme.”

He went on to conclude that “the Government’s own evaluation failed to consider discrimination on grounds of nationality at all, only on grounds of ethnicity.”

A statement by the RLA says the Judge continued by finding that the Right to Rent “does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not”, describing such discrimination by landlords as being “logical and wholly predicable” when faced with potential sanctions and penalties for getting things wrong.

He said: “The safeguards used by the Government to avoid discrimination, namely online guidance, telephone advice and codes of conduct and practice, have proved ineffective.

“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.”

The ruling comes following a report published last year by David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, which concluded that the Right to Rent has “yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance” and that the Home Office was “failing to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use, while at the same time doing little to address the concerns of stakeholders.”

The RLA and the JCWI have written to the Home Secretary seeking an urgent meeting.

John Stewart, policy manager for the Residential Landlords Association, says: “Today’s ruling is 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.

“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.”

Chai Patel, legal policy director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “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.

“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 judgement only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.”

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