A recent report has demonstrated that the Government's controversial 'right to rent' scheme is discriminating against potential tenants.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) found that over half of landlords surveyed admitted that the new right to rent rules would make them less likely to let their property to foreign nationals.

What is the right to rent scheme?

It is the checks that landlords must carry out to ensure a prospective tenant has the right to rent in the UK. Not all tenancies are included, so landlords should ensure they check the guides and codes listed below.

The right to rent scheme was introduced as part of the Government's attempt to control immigration by preventing people who are in the UK unlawfully from accessing key services such as housing. It came into force in England on 1 February 2016.

The scheme requires landlords of residential properties to check the status of prospective tenants to ascertain whether the tenant has the right to be living in the UK. Landlords can be fined up to £3,000 for failing to comply with the legal checks (known as a 'civil penalty') and also face criminal sanctions including imprisonment.

How can landlords comply with the right to rent scheme?

The Home Office has provided various tools and guides which landlords can access freely:

Landlords should make sure they are familiar with the above as they set out in detail what checks are needed and will also stipulate whether any future checks needs to be carried out if the tenant has a right to rent that is time-limited. The above documents are updated and so landlords should make sure they always have the most up to date version when carrying out the checks.

Avoiding discrimination

The Government has issued a Code of Practice to assist landlords in avoiding unlawful discrimination when carrying out the right to rent checks. However, the JCWI report highlights evidence that there is, in fact, discrimination.

In September 2015, JCWI undertook an independent evaluation of the Right to Rent pilot and it reported that landlords were less likely to rent to those without British passports, those with complicated immigration status, and people with 'foreign accents or names' as a result of the scheme.

The most recent report from JCWI has again found evidence of discrimination against foreign nationals. Over half of landlords surveyed (51%) stated that they are now less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals from outside the EU. Almost a fifth (18%) were less likely to rent to EU nationals as well. Landlords are also less willing to accept tenants who do not hold a British passport as a result of the scheme.

Refusing a prospective tenant access to rent a property because of their nationality or because they are not British amounts to race discrimination. The tenant would have the right to bring a claim against the landlord for compensation for injury to feelings up to £30,000.

What should landlords do?

JCWI recommends that the right to rent scheme should be abandoned as a form of immigration control because it is disproportionate and is being implemented in a discriminatory manner. That is unlikely to happen given the Government's clear intention to control immigration and make the UK a hostile environment for illegal immigrants.

The JCWI is a welcome report for a variety of reasons. One of the key messages is that landlords must ensure they are familiar with their legal obligations about how to carry out the right to rent checks. Failure to get the checks right will prove to be expensive and possibly a criminal act. Failure to apply the checks fairly and without discrimination will also give rise to claims for discrimination with compensation awards of up to £30,000. It is vital therefore that landlords are fully aware of their legal obligations to avoid a civil penalty, criminal sanctions and to avoid allegations and claims of discrimination.

The checks are easily complied with and if landlords need assistance they can always call the landlord helpline. Failure to get the checks right could prove to be very costly.

Originally published 10 March 2017

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