In a landmark ruling the High Court has today ruled the government’s ‘Right to Rent’ scheme to be unlawful, on the grounds that it causes racial discrimination. The judgement follows a legal challenge brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).
This damming judgement by Mr Justice Spencer, who presided over the case, at the High Court sends a clear and strong message to the government that the matrix of ‘hostile environment’ policies needs to come to an end.
Sophie Cartwright, JRS UK’s policy officer said “The Right to Rent scheme is a tool of the hostile environment, designed to create destitution and to further marginalise refused asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants. It is both cruel and dangerous. Today’s High Court’s ruling that it is unlawful is very welcome. The Right to Rent scheme – and indeed the entire hostile environment agenda – must be abandoned immediately.’
Mr Justice Spencer, who presided over the case, found that the ‘Right to Rent’ Scheme caused racial discrimination against those without British passports and against ethnic minorities. He also said the government had not shown that the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme actually encouraged undocumented migrants to leave the UK.
Judge Spencer’s finding echoes research published by JCWI in 2015 which found that the Right to Rent scheme was deepening and extending racial discrimination in the rental market. JRS UK have also raised concerns that the scheme increases migrant homelessness and renders migrants even more vulnerable to exploitation, including modern slavery.
Sophie continued, “In our ‘Out in the Cold’ report, we demonstrated that homelessness was ubiquitous among refused asylum seekers, and created vulnerability to abuse. We found that 60% of people we work with had slept rough within the last year, and over a third were physically afraid of those they lived with.
“This ruling today is fantastic and we are hopeful it will make a real difference in improving the lives of the vulnerable asylum seekers we support, opening up to them the possibility of safe and secure accommodation.”
What Is the ‘Right to Rent’ Scheme policy?
The ‘Right to Rent’ legislation was principally developed across the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. The 2014 Immigration Act declared that undocumented migrants did not have the “right to rent”, and introduced civil penalties for landlords who did not check immigration status. In the 2016 Immigration Act, criminal liability was placed with the landlord: landlords can be imprisoned for up to five years if it is found that they had “reason to believe” that the tenant was in the country irregularly. The 2016 Act also made it easier for landlords to evict undocumented occupiers – for which it does not require a court order – and gave the Home Office powers to order them to do so.
The Right to rent scheme is part of the hostile environment – now sometimes referred to by policy makers as the ‘compliance environment’, a matrix of policy and legislation designed to render life in the UK unbearable for refused asylum seekers and other undocumented migrants with the ostensible aim of forcing them to leave the UK. The hostile environment also criminalises other everyday activities, such as driving and working, for certain categories of migrant, and increasingly bars access to essential services such as much NHS care.
Under Right to Rent rules, migrants considered undocumented are not allowed to rent; landlords must check tenants’ and potential tenants’ immigration status. They potentially face a custodial sentence if renting to someone deemed not to have ‘the right to rent’.
What can I do?
You can take action to end the hostile environment for vulnerable refugees and migrants.
- Invite JRS to come and speak to your Parish or School. We can explain in more detail how the hostile environment affects those seeking asylum and refugees, and what action you can take to see these policies end – e-mail our Outreach Officer Nick for more info.
- Write to you MP calling for an end to the hostile environment: JCWI have a great online action you can take to write to your MP. Click here to take the JCWI Action.
- Talk to others about it: talk to your friends, family and colleagues about why you think the hostile environment needs to stop