The Home Office has said it will reassess its right to rent scheme that requires landlords in England to check the immigration status of their tenants after the High Court ruled the legislation breached human rights law.
In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, immigration minister Caroline Nokes said her department disagreed with the High Court judgement handed down on 1 March, which found the mandatory immigration checks “discriminatory”.
Delivering the verdict last week, Mr Justice Spencer said that the regulation “does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so”.
Right to rent checks were first piloted in Birmingham and the Black Country from December 2014, before being rolled out across England in 2016. They require landlords to examine ID documents of all prospective tenants to determine they have a legal right to be in the UK before renting property to them, or face a fine of up to £3,000.
The Home Office’s own evaluation of the first six months of the pilot, which took place across five West Midlands local authority areas – Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton – found “no systemic discrimination on the basis of race”, Nokes said.
Mr Justice Spencer also said rolling the legislation out to devolved territories without further evaluation would breach the Equality Act.
The case was brought against the Home Office by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, supported by bodies including the human rights charity Liberty, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Residential Landlords Association.
The charity contended that the checks were discriminatory – a claim that has now been upheld in court. Evidence presented in the case included a 2018 report by the independent chief inspector of borders, which showed 42% of landlords reported they were less likely to consider letting to someone without a British passport. In the same report, 49% of landlords said they were less likely to consider letting to a foreign national with permission to remain in the country for a limited time.
Spencer said based on this evidence, “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”.
He said the checks appeared to have had a “real effect” on people’s ability to find accommodation, but “little to no effect” when it came to controlling immigration.
The checks were part of the government’s so-called “hostile environment” – since rebranded the “compliant environment” – for people who are in the UK illegally.
The ruling does not require the legislation to be repealed at this stage, and in her speech Nokes said the Home Office had been given permission to appeal. If it opts not to appeal, or if the judgement is upheld, the department will have to amend the rules to make them comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.
In her statement yesterday, Nokes said the ruling had no immediate effect on the policy.
However, she said the Home Office was “looking at options for a further evaluation of the operation of the scheme”. As part of this, she said the department would develop “further mechanisms to monitor the operation of the scheme to provide ongoing assurance about its impact”.
Nokes added that home secretary Sajid Javid had written to Wendy Williams, the former police watchdog who is independently reviewing the Home Office’s handling of cases in the Windrush scandal, to make her aware of the judgement.