‘Right to Rent’ to be scrapped?

By Alex Timperley, 27 March 2019

The Right to Rent scheme, which requires landlords to check the immigration status of tenants, has been controversial since its introduction in England in 2016. The rules were presented as an attempt to prevent illegal immigrants from renting, but the reality of how the rules were applied showed the scheme to be fundamentally flawed.

The courts declared the scheme to be in breach of human rights legislation in early March, scuppering plans to roll Right to Rent out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Evidence demonstrated that the scheme was having little effect on illegal immigration but was strongly encouraging landlords to discriminate against potential tenants due to their nationality or ethnicity in case they make a mistake and face prosecution.

The scheme was introduced by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary as part of her “hostile environment” immigration policy, and now the High Court has ruled that it amounts to “direct discrimination on the basis of nationality.” In the face of such a judgement it is hard to see how the government can continue to justify it. A further judgement from the High Court has confirmed that Right to Rent also breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) agrees with the courts, describing Right to Rent as a “farce” and calling for the whole thing to be abandoned as soon as possible. The industry body notes that the law now puts landlords in a situation where complying with a Home Office directive leaves them open the being prosecuted for breaching equality laws. The RLA also notes that the Home Office and the minister in charge at the time, now the Prime Minister, cannot be similarly charged for creating a law deemed to be racist by the UK’s highest legal body.

David Smith, the RLA’s policy director, says: “With the High Court having ruled that discrimination is baked into the Right to Rent scheme it is time for the policy to be scrapped altogether.”

Mr Justice Spencer, the judge who presided over the case, said that Right to Rent “does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not”.

However, it is important to emphasise that he does not blame them for this. If landlords are forced by the Home Office to act as a sort of unofficial border police force, then Justice Spencer believes that it is both “logical and wholly predictable” that fear of sanctions and penalties will lead to discriminatory practices.

The lettings industry is one of the pillars on which society is built due to the sheer number of people who rent – a number which is growing every year. It is vital that people can trust they are being treated fairly and that landlords are not put in a position where they are incentivised to do the opposite.

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