THE High Court of Justice has ruled against the Government’s controversial ‘right to rent’ policy, declaring it breaches human rights and causes discrimination.
‘Right to rent’ has been in full force in England since 2016. The policy was introduced by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary as part of the so-called ‘hostile environment’ approach to tackling immigration issues.
It requires that landlords check the immigration status of any potential tenant, with severe penalties for those that fail to do so. These include an unlimited fine or up to five years in prison, although first-time offenders would be more likely to receive a £1,000 fine.
Many landlords played safe and simply refused to let a property to anyone they suspected might not be eligible; creating a situation where prospective tenants were being racially discriminated against.
The legal challenge to the ‘right to rent’ policy was led by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), with support from the Equality & Human Rights Commission, Liberty and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).
According to the ruling issued on Friday (1 March), ‘right to rent’ is incompatible with the UK’s obligations on human rights and breaches the Equality Act 2010. The Government was also found to be acting in breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
In making the ruling, Mr Justice Spencer said of the current policy in England: “In my judgement, the evidence, when taken together, strongly showed not only that landlords are discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity but also that they are doing so because of the scheme.
“It is my view that the scheme introduced by the Government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not.”
He went on to say that it would be irrational to extend the policy to Scotland and Wales.
“[The] ruling is a damning critique of a flagship Government policy,” said David Smith, the RLA’s policy director. “We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.
“We call on the Government to accept the decision, scrap the 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.”
Chris Norris, policy director at the National Landlords Association, said: “This court ruling confirms what the NLA has long argued; that right to rent forces landlords to consider characteristics, such as nationality, when determining to whom property should be let.
“It has put thousands of landlords in England in the terrible position of de facto border guard and undoubtedly led to a form of administrative discrimination.
“We hope that Justice Spencer’s words will force the Government to rethink this unpopular and damaging policy.”
Chai Patel of 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.”
While the ruling means the Government in unable to extend ‘right to rent’ to Scotland and Wales, it remains in force in England until or unless Parliament takes steps to change the legislation.
“If this policy had been introduced in Scotland and Wales, landlords could have been forced to racially discriminate through fear of being fined for letting a property to the wrong person,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC’s chief executive. “Landlords are not immigration officials and it is profoundly wrong to put them in that position.
“We provided expert advice in this case because the Government failed to take into account the impact these rules would have on people’s rights which are protected under equality legislation and under the Human Rights Act.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity, Crisis, said: “It is fantastic news that the High Court has ruled that this discriminatory policy be reviewed, taking the vital first step needed to scrapping 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. No one deserves to face the devastation of homelessness – especially at a time when the crisis is worsening. The Government must act now to end this policy and ensure that those in the most vulnerable circumstances are supported rather than pushed further to the fringes.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott MP, said: “The Government has continually failed to listen to stark warnings about its hostile policies. This ruling has made it very clear that the Tories’ discriminatory scheme is not working and recklessly risks making people homeless. These are the inhumane consequences of Theresa May’s hostile environment. This must end.”