In this article, Hal Fish from The Immigration Advice Service illuminates how racism in the UK is worsened by the Right to Rent Scheme
In February 2016, the Home Office introduced to Britain the Right to Rent scheme. In the years since the policy has acted to yield an unwelcome attitude towards migrants within the UK.
The scheme states that background checks must be conducted by landlords who are now required to verify the immigration status of every potential tenant. Financial punishment or even jail-time could be given to lessors caught housing undocumented tenants.
Giving this sort of power, putting such pressure and responsibility upon the landlords has subsequently opened a door – through which discrimination has crept.
What is the problem?
The Right to Rent checks hoped, in theory, that the system would catch overstayers and other illegal migrants in Britain when they sought accommodation. However, the reality of the situation has left landlords in a position to discriminate. When hearing from potential tenants, landlords now favour British applicants over foreigners as their background checks would seemingly be much less ‘complicated’.
Research by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) found that 51% of landlords are less likely to rent to non-British tenants while 48% are less likely rent to those unable to produce a British passport. In similar fashion, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) discovered more than half of 50,000 landlords expressed reluctance to rent to applicants on a time-restricting visa (which is most working migrants) and a further 20% stated they would not rent to European Economic Area (EEA) nationals.
Worryingly, landlords have been said to refuse to house people with foreign-sounding names or accents – a considerable concern as foreign nationals are almost three times more likely to rent their homes than British residents.
Who are the victims of Right to Rent?
All this has led to flagrant racial discrimination towards British black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals as well as EU migrants. Also, not exempt from this widespread discrimination are the UK-born migrant children who have grown up in care or with parents who could not afford to apply for British Citizenship for them.
The need for such background checks has also been problematic for human trafficking survivors, stateless persons, asylum-seekers, victims of domestic violence, as well as other similarly vulnerable individuals.
These people, as is typical when fleeing cases of extreme violence and persecution, often leave vital documents behind and struggle to get themselves legally into the country at all. But now, when they have done enough to satisfy the rigorous immigration checks by Home Office caseworkers and gained the right to come into the country, they must face another obstacle when looking to home themselves. It’s absurd that a landlord – an untrained and potentially insensitive member of the British public – can play such an important role in the safety of one human being’s life.
Government refusal to change policy
The faults of the policy come as no surprise.
As far back as 2015, results from the Right to Rent’s pilot forewarned of the potentially discriminatory nature of the scheme. Yet it took over three years for the High Court to rule that the legislation breaches the European Convention on Human Rights and equality laws. In 2018 an investigation conducted by David Bolt, the Independent Chief of Borders and Immigration, found that the policy had “yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance”.
Despite this, it seems the Government’s prevailing hostility towards migrants won’t ease up in the near future.
The vision intended for post-Brexit Britain hopes to introduce the skills-based immigration plan in 2021. This policy demands that employers carry out enhanced ‘Right to Work’ checks on all EU, EEA and Swiss staff members. It looks more than likely that this new scheme will end up following a similar pattern to what the Right to Rent rule produced.
It seems obvious that putting this sort of pressure on employers will once more lead to acts of discrimination. But the new scheme could also cause plenty of issues for the employers as well.
Brexit will make this worse
Swept up in the confusion that is Brexit, struggling to understand what the deal means in regards to the rights of EU citizens, innocent employers could find themselves unknowingly in a legal grey-area. For example, having a visa doesn’t necessarily mean a migrant has the right to work. It is therefore advised that businesses and recruiters familiarise themselves with the immigration system as to avoid making mistakes in their background checks, but it’s unlikely that all will be so diligent.
Clearly, if status checks are to be undergone by untrained members of the public – employers and landlords acting much like unwitting immigrational control – innocent migrants and other vulnerable members of society will suffer from unfair judgements. Regardless of the Brexit outcome, it’s apparent that these schemes, if allowed to continue, will only further perpetuate discriminatory and biased attitudes within Britain.
The Right to Rent policy has seemed to primarily disadvantage the public. Indeed, it may even be playing a part in the current national homelessness crisis which grips the UK – an issue that will likely be exacerbated by the Right to Work scheme.
Innocent bystanders too frequently have become collateral damage – you only have to look at the Windrush scandal to see an example of honest people being suddenly denied their right to work, rent and access public services such as NHS treatment because of such questionable government policies.
What, if any, advantage can even come from such zealous checks when neither scheme has proved successful in fairly controlling immigration?
Those who are legally permitted to reside in the UK will struggle to home themselves, skilled migrants may be denied the opportunity to fill workforce shortages, and vulnerable members of society will be left further isolated and unprotected. To put it simply, the people of Britain will become alienated in the country they should be able to call home.
There are just too many pitfalls within these policies to allow such ill-conceived and unnecessary schemes to be written into law.
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