From 1 February 2016 the government will expand the Right to Rent Scheme, as part of its plan to fully implement the 2014 Immigration Act. According to the Home Office , the Rights to Rent Scheme states, ‘under the new rules, landlords who fail to check a potential tenant’s ‘Right to Rent’ will face penalties of up to £3,000 per tenant;’ the rules apply to private landlords, sub-letters and those who take in lodgers. They ‘must check the right of prospective tenants to be in the country to avoid being hit with a penalty. Under right to rent, landlords should check identity documents for all new tenants and take copies.’ Landlords or letting agents have a list of over seventeen documents to check from; which will be unfamiliar to any layperson. Furthermore, the check is not a one time only investigation ‘If the tenant’s permission to stay in the UK is time limited, you’ll have to make another check on the tenant by the later date of either,’ that is the landlord must be constantly checking on a residing tenants’ status, effectively adding the title of Immigration Officers to their CV’s.
The Right to Rent scheme tells a tale of three sides; firstly the Home Office, secondly landlords and finally the tenants.
After having implemented a pilot scheme from December 1st 2014 across the West Midlands, through the counties of Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, the Home Office has finally published its evaluation of the scheme after much pressure from charities and MP’s.
The Home Office evaluation states that, ‘a higher proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) shoppers were asked to provide more information during rental enquiries in the phase one area’, it further showed that, ‘focus groups did indicate a potential for discrimination.’
In addition to issues concerning discrimination, the report indicates that, ‘an unintended consequence of the scheme may be that the documentation requirements could present difficulties for some British citizens with limited documentation.’ The report also detailed the impact of the scheme on housing associations which showed that 55% of local authorities reported the scheme increased their workloads and had indicated that issues were arising as a result of the scheme. However, the impact was higher on landlords, where 77% of landlords reported the new plans increased their workloads. While 53% of VCO’s (Voluntary and Charity organisations) reported that the scheme had ‘negatively impacted their workload.’
From the Home Office evaluation report, it would appear that the scheme originally intended to expunge irregular migrants, is having a greater and negative impact on British citizens and businesses. Despite this, the Home Office has announced their intention to roll out the scheme nationally, even before the findings of their own report were made public.
An Independent evaluation of the pilot scheme was carried out by Movement Against Xenophobia (MAX), coordinated by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) together with a group of organisations, including Shelter, Generation Rent, and the Chartered Institute of Housing. The Independent report found significant evidence that many landlords found the new plans an extreme hassle. As a consequence, ‘landlords are prepared to discriminate against those with complicated immigration status or those who cannot provide documentation immediately.’ Furthermore, their analysis showed that many landlords and lettings agents found the legislation confusing and complex, often carrying out procedures incorrectly. This in turn has led landlords to dismiss prospective tenants who do not appear or sound British or who cannot show documents immediately.
As a consequence, landlords appear to be at cross road, on one side they have to deal with the anti-discrimination code of practice which in itself is complex and could result in a law suit. While on the other side, they have to go through countless checks that not only take time and delay potential tenants, (as landlords have to give tenants realistic time frames to provide the necessary documents), but also results in extra costs and loss of income as a result of those delays. This in turn could potential lead to mortgage repayment issues and other added costs.
Tenants are the third party affected in this tale. In their evaluation the Home Office state that “there was some limited evidence that illegal migrants’ access to the private rental sector in the phase one area was being restricted.” However, David Smith, director of The Residential Lettings Association, who has given evidence at the House of Commons criticising the Immigration Bill; argued that the evidence shown by the Home Office primarily demonstrates the failure of the scheme’s original agenda. Findings from the Movement Against Xenophobia’s investigation into the West Midlands pilot scheme also call into question the effectiveness of the scheme in meeting the original Home Office aim. The report found that ‘66% of irregular migrants sofa surf or stay with friends’ rather than rent from private landlords.
David Smith in his evidence to the Home Office further commented that “the report also highlights the very real danger of legitimate UK nationals being unable to access housing because they do not have photo ID.’
Consequently, the scheme does not only affect migrants with irregular status, but expands and trickles further along to those who maybe homeless, living in hostels or those in vulnerable situations, as well as legitimate citizens who cannot provide picture ID’s.
In a press release, Crisis UK, criticised the Home Office evaluation report, ‘it is deeply troubling that in the pilot area, six of the local charities surveyed said that people they represent had become homeless as a result of the scheme, while seven indicated that people with the right to rent were struggling to find accommodation.’
The movement Against Xenophobia report found that 42% of landlords said the Right to Rent scheme made them less likely to rent a property to someone who does not have a British passport; 27% said they were now reluctant even to engage with those with foreign names or accents.
Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham wrote in the Independent that “the new document checks could become the modern equivalent of the ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ signs and, by being more insidious, such casual discrimination will be far harder to challenge.”
The Chartered Institute of Housing, CIH, has commented on how the scheme will impact on local authorities and housing services, “prospective tenants may allege discrimination against landlords and ask local authorities for help in dealing with this….overall it seems likely to increase the already massive pressures in local authorities and homelessness agencies.”
Further criticism came from the Chair of Association of Independent Inventory Clerks, AIIC, Patricia Barber, who showed concern at the pace at which the scheme is being rolled out and the scale of the Home Office study and evaluation, ‘it is disappointing to see the input and experience of so few landlords and lettings agents.’
Whichever perspective you take, it seems the Right to Rent scheme is filled with potholes, with no concrete answers to fill them. Rolling out the scheme nationally despite the criticism expressed about the impact of the pilot, leaves much concern about the wider impact of the scheme and the long term effects on housing, public services or the humanitarian consequences.
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