THE BLOG

The Government's Right To Rent Scheme Encourages Racism

13/02/2017 12:14 GMT | Updated 13/02/2017 12:19 GMT
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Half a century ago Parliament passed the Race Relations Act, making it illegal to refuse housing to any person on racial grounds. Our new report shows that the Government's right to rent scheme, which requires private landlords to act as border guards, has turned back the clock over 50 years, by incentivising racial discrimination in the English housing market.

This policy came into being as part of a host of measures designed to create a 'hostile environment' for 'illegal' migrants, by denying them access to services such as healthcare, banking and driving licenses. We have argued, alongside other organisations, that these measures would create a hostile environment for anyone who looked or sounded foreign, or who could not produce the right paperwork on request. You cannot tell whether someone is an irregular migrant just by looking at them, but the 'hostile environment' is predicated on landlords, doctors, nurses, banks, and others all carrying out assessments of immigration status.

Under such a system, which requires countless checks to be carried out every day by untrained and unpaid immigration enforcement draftees, ethnic minorities, those with foreign accents, and the millions of British citizens who do not own passports are all at risk. Landlords faced with a fine of up £3,000 or even a prison sentence of up to five years do not want to take any risks. Understandably, when faced with a choice of tenants they will pick those who seem like a safer bet. In response to our surveys, 51% of landlords said they would be less likely to consider letting to people from outside Europe as a result of the scheme. When asked to consider the consequences of the new criminal penalties, 48% said they would be less likely to rent to anyone without a British passport.

In the past the Government has dismissed evidence of the consequences of the scheme. Even where their own evaluation found real evidence of discrimination occurring under the scheme it was brushed away as not amounting to 'hard' evidence. It seemed the 'soft' evidence of discrimination the Home Office found was not worth following up or exploring further and so the scheme was rolled out across England in February 2016. In this new report we have uncovered the hard evidence of discrimination which the Government has refused to look for. We conducted a set of mystery shopping exercises by responding to online ads for properties with a set of different tenant scenarios and what we found was shocking.

Where the 'white British' and black minority ethnic (BME) mystery shoppers did not have British passports, but could show their right to rent with other legitimate documents, they were at a disadvantage. The BME tenant was 26% more likely to be ignored or receive a negative response than a BME tenant with a passport and the white tenant was also at a disadvantage, but to a lesser extent. This means that all British citizens are at a disadvantage if they don't have a passport, 17% of the UK population. Interestingly, there was no evidence of discrimination where both the white and BME mystery shoppers had British passports.

This suggests that when the scheme places landlords in a situation where they have to assess risks, and a clear document is not available, they are relying on assumptions about who seems 'more British'. The right to rent scheme encourages racist outcomes.

Furthermore, we found that foreign nationals with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and a full right to rent, are being discriminated against. The mystery shopper in this position was 20% more likely to receive a negative or no response to enquiries about properties than a British citizen. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable individuals like asylum seekers and victims of modern day slavery who require landlords to do an online check with the Home Office face huge obstacles under the scheme. Out of a 150 emails from a mystery shopper requesting that landlords conduct an online check, 85% received no response at all. Only three responses indicated a willingness to go through the online checking process.

We have to ask ourselves whether encouraging racial discrimination, which includes discrimination on both grounds of nationality and ethnicity, is worth it. We are forced to ask ourselves rather than asking the Government, because it has no idea at all. The scheme was supposed to target irregular migrants and rogue landlords, but most irregular migrants don't rent private property and rogue landlords are only too happy to have their victims denied access to the legitimate and safe parts of the property market. Astonishingly, there is no adequate monitoring in place to see if the scheme is encouraging irregular migrants to leave the UK, or whether it is simply driving them into the hands of the rogue landlords it was supposed to target. Since the scheme began, the Government can identify just 31 individuals who have left as a result. Nor is there a system to measure the impacts on homelessness, on immigration enforcement generally, or on the costs that are being imposed on landlords and on local authorities who may have to deal with the consequences of families and children being unable to rent privately.

A scheme that incentivises racial discrimination and that cannot be shown to have any positive effect would not have had any place in our laws in 1968. It cannot be justified today. Any proposed further expansion of the scheme to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be halted pending a full evaluation. In light of these findings, we are calling on the Government to halt the right to rent scheme immediately.