A quarter of UK landlords won't rent to people with a 'foreign' sounding name or accent, a report has found, prompting calls for the government to scrap its initiative calling on landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants.
Calls have been made for the 'Right to Rent' scheme to be halted as critics say is missing its intended aims and instead "feeding into a climate of fear".
The figure comes after the scheme, introduced as a pilot in December 2014, was evaluated by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) ahead of it being widened as part of the forthcoming Immigration Bill.
It found the scheme - aimed to prevent those who are in the country illegally from renting a home - forced landlords into becoming "border guards" and led to "discrimination" against those legally entitled to be in the UK with complicated immigration status.
JCWI legal and policy director, Saira Grant said: "These checks are leading to increased racial profiling. Those who appear foreign or have foreign accents are finding it increasingly difficult to access tenancies."
Having seen the research, the Residential Landlords Association on Thursday said the scheme was creating "confusion and anxiety" among landlords.
Right to Rent, which has already been labelled a failure, required landlords in five local authority areas in the West Midlands to check the immigration status of renters or face a fine of up to £3,000 per tenant.
Under proposed changes to the scheme landlords could be jailed if they repeatedly fail to carry out passport checks and they will be given the power to evict people who do not have the right to rent, without needing a court order.
The JCWI investigation found that 42% of landlords are unlikely to rent to those without British passports and that Right to Rent checks were not being "undertaken uniformly but are instead directed at certain individuals who appear foreign".
It added: "Landlords are being forced to discriminate against individuals with the legal right to rent but with unclear or complicated immigration status, in addition to those who cannot provide documentation immediately. This includes BME tenants, British citizens and those with valid leave to remain."
JCWI said it was "extremely concerning" that further sanctions and a further rollout of the scheme had been announced without the scheme being properly evaluated.
It said the changes would "only serve to deepen the discrimination and hardship already being caused to those legally here and seeking a tenancy, including British citizens".
The report comes a day after statistics from Shelter revealed that more than 125,000 people privately renting homes in England had suffered abusive behaviour from landlords in the last year. Examples included a tenant having stones thrown at him, and another having their possessions set ablaze.
JCWI said the Right to Rent checks were not deterring "irregular migration" or preventing them from accessing housing, saying Home Office enforcement during the pilot had only resulted in two penalty notices being issued. The Guardian reported last month that seven landlords had been issued notices, and been given average fines of just £800.
The group said its own data showed "irregular migrants" don't even use the private rental market, as 66% "sofa surf".
"Thus, the scheme is not resulting in meeting its stated aim but is divisive and is feeding into a climate of fear being created by the Government," the JCWI said.
JCWI said the Right to Rent scheme had "shifted the burden of responsibility" onto landlords, turning them into "immigration officials".
It said: "Landlords feel forced to discriminate due to confusion surrounding the scheme and the fear of a financial penalty. This will only increase if a further criminal charge against landlords is brought in."
The JCWI called on the Home Office to publish its evaluation of the pilot scheme and to halt it until "issues of discrimination against certain groups of tenants, as well as other adverse impacts on landlords and tenants, have been properly addressed".
Grant added: "Due to the current developments in Calais, we are now seeing a knee jerk reaction from our government who want to appear even ‘tougher’ on ‘illegal’ immigration through extending a divisive scheme without proper consideration.”
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Grant said the additional changes proposed to the scheme will only "deepen the discrimination and hardship already being caused to those legally here and seeking a tenancy".
And added that the threat of criminalisation will put extra pressure on landlords, "exacerbating their concerns of renting to anybody without clear immigration status".
The Residential Landlords Association said RLA Policy Director, David Smith said the scheme was "causing confusion and anxiety" among landlords and called on the government to give them training to carry out the checks with confidence.
Smith said: “In the absence of such support, today’s research sadly shows the inevitable consequences of the policy which the RLA has long voiced concerns about. Faced with considerable sanctions, landlords will inevitably play it safe where a tenant’s identity documents are either unclear or simply not known to them.”