Right to Rent, by which letting agents and landlords have to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants, breaches human rights laws, the High Court has ruled.
The regime was introduced in England in 2016 and carries both civil and criminal penalties.
Under Right to Rent landlords – or their agents – are responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants with the prospect of prosecution if they know or have “reasonable cause to believe” that the property they are letting is occupied by someone who does not have the right to rent in the UK.
The checks need to be carried out face to face checks on all adult occupiers. If landlords or agents are challenged by immigration enforcement, they need to be able to evidence checks. Failure can lead to fines of up to £3,000 per occupier.
The High Court this morning said it would be illegal to roll the scheme out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without further evaluation.
The Home Office expressed disappointment with today’s ruling on the challenge brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Residential Landlords Association.
Today, Mr Justice Martin Spencer said that the Right to Rent scheme – introduced by Theresa May as Home Secretary – breached the European Convention on Human Rights, saying that it led to discrimination against non-UK nationals and also British ethnic minorities. The Judge concluded that discrimination was taking place “because of the scheme”.
He said that Right to Rent actually caused landlords to discriminate.
He also said that the Government’s own evaluation of the scheme had failed to consider discrimination on the grounds of nationality, and he criticised the “ineffective” safeguards provided by the Government to prevent discrimination through its online guidance and telephone advice line.
The ruling, as we understand it, does not mean that landlords and agents in England can stop making Right to Rent checks. ARLA is advising its members that they must carry on doing so.
The RLA and the JCWI are calling for an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary, and both organisations are calling for the scheme to be scrapped.
Housing lawyer David Smith, who is also policy director for the RLA, said: “We call on the Government to accept the [court’s] decision, scrap 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.”
Chai Patel, legal policy director to 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.
“Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.”
Chief executive of housing charity Crisis Jon Sparkes said: “It is fantastic news that the High Court has ruled that this discriminatory policy be reviewed, taking the vital first step needed to scrap it altogether.
“Every day, our frontline staff hear of the overwhelming difficulties faced by homeless people trying to find a tenancy in the already saturated rental market.
“This is made even harder if someone has to prove their immigration status, especially as official documents like passports can often be lost sleeping rough, moving from hostel to hostel, or fleeing domestic abuse – and replacements can be prohibitively expensive.
“And as a result of this policy, many landlords are avoiding renting to anyone they don’t believe to be British to avoid the threat of prosecution if they accidentally rent to the wrong person.
“This can’t carry on. The Government must act now to end this policy.”
Rachel Hartley, communications manager at ARLA Propertymark, said: “We are urgently calling on the Government now to provide clarity before any further steps are taken in relation to freedom of movement post Brexit, or phase 3 rollout.”