A verdict of the High Court has slammed the Government’s Right to Rent scheme. The mandatory document checks were called “discriminatory”, with “little or no effect” on immigration.
This comes after a case brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. They presented evidence that, in cases where tenants could not provide a UK passport, landlords were more likely to grant a tenancy to tenants with a ‘British’ name.
The implication is that landlords are being forced to ‘play it safe’ because the penalties they face for breaching the rules are so severe. Landlords can face large fines or even prison if found to have let to a tenant without the right to rent in the UK.
Right to Rent has not been struck down by the ruling, but the case could be the beginning of the end for the unpopular policy. Many groups are calling for it to be scrapped, including the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).
Plans to expand the scheme to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been shelved.
Unpopular with Landlords
Since 2016, landlords in England have had to perform a Right to Rent check on tenants before letting to them. This involved checking visa or passport documents in the presence of the tenant and then taking a photocopy.
The policy has been unpopular with landlords. Many landlords felt that they were being asked to act as “immigration officials”.
Right to Rent’s Effect on Landlords
The Government wanted to roll the scheme out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but won’t be able to after the High Court’s Mr Justice Spencer launched a scathing attack.
Landlords who fail to conduct Right to Rent checks can be fined up to £3,000. And landlords who rent to those without the right to rent in the UK could face up to five years in prison.
In the face of these severe penalties, many landlords preferred to rent to tenants with documents they were familiar with, and which clearly guarantee the right to rent, such as a UK passport.
Mr Justice Spencer’s key point was that this pressured landlords to discriminate against tenants without such documents, even when they did have the right to rent.
High Court Criticism
In his verdict, Justice Spencer 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”.
“The Government cannot wash its hand of the 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.”
In other words, Mr Justice Spencer is saying what many landlords have been saying for years: the policy does not work and is making life harder for landlords and tenants with no real benefit.
What Does this Mean for Landlords in England and the Rest of the UK?
Not much, yet. Landlords in England will have to continue with the checks. Landlords in the rest of the UK are now much less likely to see the scheme introduced.
The High Court has indicated that mandatory Right to Rent checks cannot now be rolled out to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without “further evaluation of its discriminatory impact”.
This is due to the “inherent and unacceptable risk of illegality” of the policy.
Meanwhile, Right to Rent has not been scrapped and it is not clear that it will be any time soon.
‘Hostile Environment’ Policy
Right to Rent is part of a wider stance from the Government to create a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants in the UK.
The hostile environment, championed by Theresa May during her time at the Home Office, has continued into her time as Prime Minister.
But the hostile environment has since been associated with the Windrush Scandal and current Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been under fire for the human cost of the policy.
Given this context and last week’s ruling, it seems likely that Right to Rent checks could soon become a thing of the past.
Here is the Govt’s written statement on losing the right to rent judicial review. https://t.co/KBehhVpre1 Let us savour some particularly egregious bits.
— Nearly Legal (@nearlylegal) March 5, 2019