Migrants who rent homes are becoming fearful of discrimination by landlords, according to the latest findings of an independent survey on the current Right to Rent pilot scheme.
The scheme is part of the Immigration Act 2014 and requires landlords to carry out specific checks on the immigration status of potential tenants. Landlords face a fine of up to £3,000 if they fail to do so. The government has been piloting the scheme since December 2014 in Birmingham and the surrounding areas of Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, and it has been closely monitored by migrant support organisations.
While the government is evaluating the scheme, a group of organisations including Movement Against Xenophobia (MAX), The Chartered Institute of Housing, Coventry Law Centre (Birmingham branch) and Generation Rent, have launched their own independent evaluation. The survey has found that the scheme is already causing increased tension between tenants and landlords. Tenants are now being charged an extra £100 in administration fees. Some landlords have also admitted that they are less likely to offer a viewing to anyone who needed extra time to hand in their paperwork.
The government plans to roll out the scheme nationally if they deem their pilot successful, which will affect all 4 million people who rent homes in Britain. After a consultation with Migrant Voice and several other migrant support organisations in 2013, the government concluded that landlords must “make checks on a non-discriminatory basis”. However, the pilot already shows that landlords are becoming less willing to take risks with migrants.
Theresa May, Home Secretary, said about the scheme: “The new regulations will make it more difficult for illegal migrants to find accommodation and deter those who set out to disregard the Immigration Rules. It will benefit those communities blighted by illegal structures, the so-called 'sheds with beds'.”
Campaigners and migrant support groups disagree however, voicing concerns that the rules will become cause for racism and prejudice against migrants who need a place to live.
Saira Grant, legal and policy director of JCWI told Migrant Voice: “These checks will lead to discrimination and will encourage racism. The irony is that you do not even need to be a racist landlord – the fear of breaking the law or being fined £3,000 will be enough for people to discriminate against migrants.”
Alexander Hilton, director of Generation Rent, has already begun to see cases of discrimination occurring through the pilot scheme. He told The Pie News: “A colleague of mine is keeping closely in touch with the pilot area, and I saw one example of a couple where a woman was told that rooms were not available to view when her partner, who didn't have a foreign accent, was able to view those same places.”
“By implementing these rules, they are not going to catch one single immigrant, they're going to drive illegal immigrants into illegal tenancies where they'll be even further exploited,” he warned.
Ben Reeve-Lewis, a council tenancy advisor in London, told The Independent that some local landlords were “already preparing to discriminate against foreigners when the scheme was rolled out nationally”.
He said: “Landlords tell me that they won't run the risk of letting to anyone that's got a foreign accent.”