Legal expert asks for end to Right to Rent checks

The blog can be seen here, and says that the ‘Right to Rent’ checks were imposed on landlords in England in 2016, earlier in some areas, as part of the UK government’s measures to combat illegal immigration. These checks are not mandatory, but if conducted properly, they provide landlords with a ‘statutory excuse’ if tenants are found to be without a right to rent. Without this statutory excuse, landlords face significant penalties, including fines or even custodial sentences. As of January this year, fines have been significantly increased to up to £10,000 for landlords and up to £5,000 for lodger landlords for a first offense, which some argue is disproportionate.

The right-to-rent regime was introduced during the Conservative-led coalition government. Although initially resisted by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives implemented the scheme after obtaining a majority in 2016, without fully analyzing the results of the initial trial. The scheme remains limited to England; it has not been implemented in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

The primary aim of the right-to-rent checks is to deter illegal immigration by making it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to find housing. This approach mirrors similar rules for employers regarding the hiring of illegal immigrants. However, there is ongoing debate about its effectiveness, especially given the reported increase in illegal immigration via other means, such as boat crossings across the Channel.

One major criticism of the right-to-rent scheme is its inherent encouragement of discrimination. Faced with hefty fines and potential jail time for non-compliance, many landlords might adopt a risk-averse approach, avoiding renting to anyone who might seem foreign or who does not possess easily recognizable UK documentation. This can lead to discriminatory practices against individuals with foreign accents, names, or non-UK passports. This issue was highlighted in a 2020 legal challenge by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, where the Court of Appeal acknowledged the scheme’s discriminatory nature but upheld it on policy grounds.

The scheme’s implementation has led to unintended consequences. The need to minimize risks has prompted landlords to favor applicants with UK passports over those with foreign documentation, which can be harder to verify. This behavior potentially violates anti-discrimination laws, despite government guidelines aimed at preventing such discrimination. Additionally, the burden of compliance might push landlords to choose less risky tenants over thoroughly vetting foreign applicants, which might lead to void periods and lost rental income.

Critics argue that the right-to-rent checks should be abolished as they fail to effectively discourage illegal immigration and create undue burdens for landlords and tenants. The system is seen as distasteful by many, particularly those from minority communities who feel targeted by the legislation. Abolishing these checks could appease landlords who are also facing the potential abolition of Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions under a Labour government. Such a move could help mitigate the perception of a Labour government being anti-landlord while addressing the current housing crisis by ensuring a stable rental market.

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