We though it would be bad. And thanks to the JCWI, we can now have an evidence based stab at an answer. JCWI co-ordinated an evaluation of the West Midlands pilot of ‘Right to Rent’ and have published the report (summary here, and full report here).
Notably, the Home Office has not released its evaluation of the pilot, despite the announced commitment to a national roll out.
As well as various meetings and evidence from organisations on observed impact, the evaluation involved questionnaires for completion by both landlord/agents and tenants. These were received in roughly 40/60 proportion.
42% of landlords said that the Right to Rent requirements have made them less likely to consider someone who does not have a British passport.
27% of landlords are reluctant to engage with those with foreign accents or names.
Checks are not being undertaken uniformly for all tenants, but are instead directed at individuals who appear ‘foreign’. (Only one British citizen in the pilot area who responded to the survey had been asked by their landlord whether they had permission to be in the UK. It is noteworthy that they did not describe their ethnicity as ‘White British’.)
50% of respondents who had been refused a tenancy felt that discrimination was a factor in the landlord’s decision. (Evidence has been received through the survey and submissions of cases where individuals with valid leave to remain or a pending Home Office application have been refused tenancies despite having legal status in the UK and, therefore, the Right to Rent.)
65% of landlords are much less likely to consider tenants who cannot provide documents immediately. (So anyone, possibly including the 17.5% of the British population who do not have a passport, who cannot immediately provide adequate docs may be rejected. The ’48 hour response’ promised by the Home Office on queries, does not impress landlords enough to wait).
57% of landlords and agents nationwide and 40% in the pilot area feel they have not effectively understood the Right to Rent changes or remain unaware of them. (Confusion is greater among landlords who are not a member of a professional body and those who own fewer properties. 72% of landlords who were not members and 70% who leased less than five properties felt that they had not understood or were unaware of the changes.)
Confusion in undertaking the checks is also widespread. Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows that 86% of enquiries to the Home Office Online Checking Tool related to individuals with valid leave to remain in the UK, who therefore had the Right to Rent.
65% of landlords have not read or feel they have not fully understood the ‘Code of Practice on preventing illegal immigration’ or the ‘Code of Practice on Avoiding Discrimination’.
56% of tenants in the ‘pilot’ area remain unaware of the Right to Rent scheme. 81% have not received any advice on how to prepare for the checks when applying for a tenancy or their rights in relation to the Equality Act 2010.
44% of tenants within the pilot area had not been asked for identity documents. This shows that the checks are not being undertaken by all landlords and agents in the ‘pilot’ areas.
One third of respondents from the ‘pilot’ area had been charged a handling fee of over £50 in order to process their application, including undertaking the Right to Rent checks. 20% had been charged a fee of over £100. One landlord also stated that he charged over £100 to undertake the checks.
69% of landlords do not feel that they should be made to undertake these checks. 77% are not in favour of a national roll out.
In two out of the three cases where a survey respondent from within the pilot area did not have valid leave to remain or an outstanding application with the Home Office at the time of applying for a tenancy (and therefore did not have the Right to Rent) they stated that they had subsequently found a property and were renting privately.
Data received through a Freedom of Information request also demonstrates that enforcement during the ‘pilot’ has been very low. Between 1 December 2014 and 22 May 2015, only two landlords were issued with a civil penalty notice as a result of renting a property to someone who does not have the Right to Rent. Data from JCWI’s Irregular Migrant Advice Line shows that the majority (66%) of irregular migrants who have contacted the advice line rarely enter into private tenancy agreements, instead staying with friends or ‘sofa-surfing’.
While based on a smallish data set, there seems to be no reason to believe that the results are unrepresentative, particularly on the landlord responses, which included larger and smaller landlords, members of landlord organisations and non-members.
The results are actually even worse than I expected.
The majority of landlords not being prepared to accept the 48 hour delay for a Home Office check shouldn’t have surprised me, but the 65% is higher than expected. And there will be a very significant effect resulting – regardless of immigration status, or indeed nationality – not being able to produce obviously acceptable documents right away will lose people tenancies.
The discriminatory impact is also obvious and very significant. Of course, refusing tenancy because someone does not have a British passport or has a ‘foreign’ accent or name is straightforwardly unlawful/illegal discrimination under Equality Act 2010, but unless or until there are some discrimination claims brought (pour encourager les autres), this is hardly likely to register with landlords and agents who, and let’s face it understandably, see problems and potential prosecution under Right to Rent as the alternative to the ‘easy’ route.
Add in the lack of comprehension amongst both landlords and tenants, the lack of any actual results and, of course, the unsurprising fact that most of those without immigration status do not take on formal tenancies, and this policy is going to have to take some quite astonishing justification in any Home Office evaluation to take forward nationally. It is, on a purely practical basis, a fiasco.