The latest group to find themselves co-opted as gatekeepers in the government’s attempt to clamp down on migrants are… landlords.
New “right to rent” rules, brought in last monday under the Immigration Act 2014, essentially mean landlords must carry out a government-approved check on all prospective tenants to confirm that they have a right to live in the UK.
In practice, this means landlords must see original documents for each tenant proving their right to live here, then make a copy of them, and make subsequent checks at a later date if the tenant’s original “permission to stay” was limited. Tenants who fail these later checks must be reported to the Home Office. Landlords who fail to do any of this will be fined up to £3,000. (The full guidelines are here.)
The scheme was piloted in the Midlands before this week’s nationwide roll-out. Over the course of six months, 109 people living in the UK illegally were identified thanks to the new checks. According to the Guardian, research by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that landlords were unwilling to rent to people with “foreign sounding accents” or without a British passport.
The Home Office itself said there was a “potential for discrimination” among a small minority of landlords.
It’s likely that these prejudices will be replicated on a national level. And whether that affects minorities’ ability to rent properties or not, it’s safe to say they’re far more likely to be forced to jump through these bureaucratic hoops than white people.
Sisters Uncut, a feminist direct action group, has highlighted one group in particular that could suffer under the new rules: domestic violence victims, particularly if they are migrant women. Migrant women in the UK are also not entitled to legal aid, benefits, and may be at a disadvantage with language skills.
Then there’s the fact that the Venn diagram of people unable to get hold of their original documents, and people who are underprivileged or in some form of distress, is pretty much a circle.
Migrant women with documents, meanwhile, are likely to have them taken away by controlling partners: hiding a women’s passport is a classic abuser tactic, and could affect non-migrants too, since landlords are technically meant to check every tenant’s right to rent.
A post on Sister’s Uncut blog demonstrates how the checks could be a problem for any woman fleeing domestic violence, even if they have every right to rent in this country:
Survivors are at highest risk at the moment of separation, so fast access to a secure home is vital. Even if survivors are to pass the checks and have the “right to rent”, the process will have slowed down their access to a safe home and their perpetrators may well have caught up with them by then.
All this would be less pressing if there were refuges to cater for women in these situations, but cuts under the Conservative government have led to refuges closing or shrinking their remit. In 2014, the Mirror reported, refuges were forced to turn away 20,000 women. In response, calls to reverse the cuts have come from sources as diverse as the charity Shelter and the Sun newspaper, which wrote that refuge closures and cuts “shame” the UK.
Migrants caught without documents and reported to the Home Office, meanwhile, are sent to centres like Yarl’s Wood, currently under fire following accusations of abuse of its female detainees.
Elena Ezard, a campaigner with Sisters Uncut, explains that these new rules will act as yet another barrier to those seeking to escape abusive partners or situations:
“This is only the latest in a long line of policy changes that completely disregard domestic violence survivors. The government is putting a piece of paper between migrant women and the rest of their lives. What will happen to the women who don’t have that piece of paper?”
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