In Brief

Landlords ‘refusing to rent to minority Brits’

UK’s ‘hostile environment’ migration policy makes property owners ‘fearful of getting things wrong’, court told

The UK government’s strict immigration strategy is making private landlords reluctant to rent to British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds, the High Court has heard.

The Home Office’s so-called “hostile environment” policy is designed to make staying in the country as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain, and includes a “Right to Rent” provision that requires landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants.

The Independent reports that under the scheme, introduced in 2016, landlords “face the prospect of prosecution” if they know or have “reasonable cause to believe” the property they are letting is occupied by someone who does not have the right to live in the UK. If found guilty, property owners are liable for an unlimited fine or a prison sentence up to five years.

In June, Campaigners from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) were granted permission to bring a judicial review against the Home Office over the scheme. They claim the provision leads to discrimination against people who have a legal right to be in the UK - including British nationals - and puts them at risk of homelessness, says The Guardian.

Opening the case yesterday, Philippa Kaufman QC, representing JCWI, told the High Court that the scheme was “very onerous”, and presents “huge risks and burdens” for landlords. “BAME British citizens are treated less favourably when they don’t have a passport than white British citizens. Where they do not have a passport you then resort to proxies – do they appear British? i.e. skin colour, name, accent, and so forth,” she said.

According to statistics published by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) in 2016, 44% of private landlords are less likely to rent to people who do not have a British passport.

The RLA is also appealing against the scheme. The organisation said that discrimination against ethnic minorities was being fueled by “fear of getting things wrong”, adding: “The Right to Rent is creating a hostile environment for those who are legitimately in the UK but may have documentation that is not easy to understand for landlords.”

Chai Patel, the legal policy director of the JCWI, noted that Home Secretary Sajid Javid had “promised he would learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal, which left many thousands of legal immigrants to the UK destitute, detained and even deported”.

“But he is ignoring the clear evidence, further reinforced by today’s new RLA findings, that requiring landlords to check immigration status does not work and causes exactly the kinds of problems that the Windrush generation faced,” Patel continued.

In March, a report by David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of UK borders and immigration, concluded: “Overall, I found that the RtR scheme had yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance, with the Home Office failing to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use, while at the same time doing little to address the concerns of stakeholders.”

The Home Office has said it would “inappropriate” to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

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