The government faces growing pressure to scrap Right to Rent, which forces landlords to undertake immigration checks on prospective tenants, after the High Court ruled that the controversial policy is discriminatory and breaches human rights laws.
The Right to Rent scheme, introduced in England in 2016, requires landlords to check the immigration status of tenants.
The Home Office wants to roll the scheme out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but judges said that this will now not be possible without further evaluation, as the evidence “strongly showed” that the existing policy is causing landlords to discriminate against potential tenants because of their nationality and ethnicity.
Mr Justice Spencer concluded: “The safeguards used by the government to avoid discrimination, namely online guidance, telephone advice and codes of conduct and practice, have proved ineffective.
“In my judgment, in those circumstances, the government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”
The challenge was brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which has long maintained that the policy could lead to indirect discrimination, with landlords forced to act as what it describes as ‘border police’.
Chai Patel, legal policy director for the JCWI, said: “There is no place for racism in the UK housing market. Now that the High Court has confirmed that Theresa May’s policy actively causes discrimination, Parliament must act immediately to scrap it.
“But we all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals, and schools.
“The judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.”
The latest research by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) found that, as a result of the scheme, 44% of landlords are now less likely to rent to someone without a British passport for fear of prosecution for getting things wrong.
In a sign of the uncertainty caused by Brexit, one in five landlords say that are less likely to consider letting property to EU or EEA nationals, up from 17% in 2017.
John Stewart, policy manager for the RLA, commented: “The ruling is a damning critique of a flagship government policy. We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.
“We call on the government to accept the decision, scrap the Right to Rent, and consider what else can be done to sensibly manage migration, without having to rely on untrained landlords to do the job of the Home Office.”
The RLA and the JCWI have written to the Home Secretary seeking an urgent meeting.