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Racial Discrimination by Landlords and Letting Agents Is Shocking, Sickening and Illegal

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It is shocking, sickening and illegal that racial prejudice is reportedly being accepted by letting agents in London.

The BBC's TV programme Inside Out has discovered that letting agents have been accepting requests by landlords to refuse to show and let properties to people of African-Caribbean descent. The programme's producer spoke to lawyers, letting agents and landlords who admit that this is a growing problem.

It was a national disgrace that in the 1950s, landlords in Britain used to hang signs reading 'No Blacks' outside properties. Forty five years ago, such discrimination was outlawed by Harold Wilson's Labour government. Many thought that this was now a thing of the past, but Inside Out's investigation has shown that black people continue to suffer appalling racism.

The last Labour government introduced the Equalities Act which specifically prohibits racial discrimination when selling or renting property. It is also unlawful for a landlord or their letting agent to discriminate against a tenant or someone associated with them on the grounds of their race.

My colleague Hilary Benn, the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, has today referred this case to the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and called on them to launch an immediate investigation. Labour wants to get to the bottom of this breach of the law and inexcusable betrayal of people's basic human rights.

These shocking revelations also reinforce Labour's determination to regulate letting agents and landlords, as well as rooting out discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

Over the last decade, the number of people renting from private landlords has almost doubled. It is clear that good letting agents play a valuable role in managing the relationship between landlords and tenants.

However, some unscrupulous letting agents are, it seems, playing fast and loose with the law and are also ripping tenants off. It is also evident that rogue private landlords who attempt to discriminate or provide sub-standard housing should not be allowed to operate.

These appalling revelations are a wake-up call to the government. Ministers need to get a grip on this issue. Racism should be a thing of the past, and not something that is happening in the private rented sector in 2013. Better regulation and a code of conduct for letting agents, as Ed Miliband has called for, are urgently needed to prevent this kind of discrimination and malpractice from happening again.