1. Governance
March 4, 2019updated 04 Aug 2023 8:49am

The High Court has ruled that using landlords as immigration officers breaches human rights law

By John Stewart

The Right to Rent was bad for landlords and tenants alike, write the Residential Landlords Association.

On Friday, the High Court ruled that the government’s Right to Rent scheme, a key part of its “hostile environment” approach to illegal immigration, breaches human rights law.

Under the Right to Rent private landlords have, for the past few years, been 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.  Academics at Oxford University suggest that the foreign-born population is almost three times as likely to be in the private rental sector compared to the UK-born population.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA), which has opposed the policy from its very inception, joined with Liberty to intervene in a case brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), to have the policy declared as incompatible with human rights law. The grounds were that it was leading to discrimination against non-UK nationals who might be in the country legitimately and British ethnic minorities.

Such concerns were highlighted starkly in recent research by the RLA which found that the fear of getting things wrong led to 44 per cent of private landlords being less likely to rent to those without a British passport. It found also that 53 per cent of landlords were less likely to rent to those with limited time to remain in the UK, whilst 20 per cent said that they were less likely to consider letting property to EU or EEA nationals. Similar findings have been found by the JCWI. Significantly, during the course of the case government research emerged which confirmed a significant proportion of landlords were unwilling to rent to people without British passports.

Delivering his verdict in the High Court today, Mr Justice Martin Spencer ruled that the scheme breached the European Convention on Human Rights on the basis that it led to discrimination against non-UK nationals with the right to rent and British ethnic minorities.

In a damming verdict, Mr Justice Spencer concluded that discrimination by landlords was taking place “because of the scheme.” He went on to state that “the government’s own evaluation failed to consider discrimination on grounds of nationality at all, only on grounds of ethnicity”.

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The judge continued that the 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”, describing such discrimination by landlords a being “logical and wholly predicable” when faced with potential sanctions and penalties for getting things wrong.

The ruling comes following a report published last year by David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, which concluded that the Right to Rent has “yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance” and that the Home Office was “failing to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use, while at the same time doing little to address the concerns of stakeholders”.

The RLA has written to the Home Secretary seeking an urgent meeting and is calling on the Government to accept the decision and scrap the Right to Rent entirely.

Landlords should not be used as untrained border police, papering over cracks in the existing border force regime. Ministers should scrap what is a bad policy and consider what else can be done to sensibly manage migration without causing unnecessary friction between tenants and landlords.

John Stewart is policy manager for the Residential Landlords Association. It tweets @RLA_News.

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