On the back of The Immigration Act 2014, Right to Rent checks were introduced to the private rental sector, requiring landlords and agents to check the immigration status of prospective tenants. This was introduced from February 1st 2016 across England and applies to all residential tenancies. The checks only apply to adult occupiers over the age of 18, children are exempt. From December 1st 2016, additional penalties were introduced for non-compliance, with landlords now facing up to 5 years imprisonment as well as up to £3000 in fines. The scheme was first introduced on the 1st of December 2014 in selected areas in the West Midlands, before being rolled out across the rest of England.
However, shifting the responsibility of checking a prospective tenant’s right to rent in the UK to landlords has the potential to lead to discrimination. Are right to rent checks making landlords unwittingly racist? A report named ‘Passport Please’ is suggesting this may be the case. The report shows that those that have moved from their home countries to the UK and British citizens without passports, particularly those from ethnic minorities, would be rejected by over half of landlords. These are the overall results of the report;
51% of landlords would be less likely to let their property to foreign nationals
42% of landlords would be less likely to let their property to an applicant without a British passport
In a mystery shopping exercise, 58% of landlords turned down a black British tenant without a passport
But before we start more vilification of landlords, perhaps we should look to understand why they would be led to automatically reject applicants without a passport or with a time limited rent to live in the UK. With the threat of a large fine up to £3000 and imprisonment, many landlords would prefer not to take the risk if presented with two similar applicants, one with a British passport and one without. Although the government has issued guidance on how to correctly carry out checks, many landlords are concerned about falling foul of the regulations.
On the other hand, outright refusing to accept an application based on someone’s skin colour, race or religion is most definitely discrimination. Landlords and agents should be wary of carrying out right to rent checks but should not reject applicants based on an assumption- simple passport and ID checks are easy to carry out and will avoid the potential for unfair discrimination.
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