If the racist Right to Rent initiative is scrapped, could it be the end for the hostile environment?

If the racist Right to Rent initiative is scrapped, could it be the end for the hostile environment?

Guy Taylor

By: Guy Taylor
Date: 10 January 2020
Campaigns: Migration

In the 2014 Immigration Bill, effectively the first draft of Theresa May’s awful ‘hostile environment’ policies, the Right to Rent (RtR) initiative was born. Since then migrants and the migrants’ rights movement have challenged the government, taken them to court and won. On Wednesday 15 January the government are appealing the court ruling which called to scrap or change the discriminatory initiative. If they lose, it could be the beginning of the end of the hostile environment.

The Right to Rent initiative is racist and discriminatory

The new immigration law in 2014 insisted that a landlord would inspect a prospective tenant’s passport or papers and refuse to let a room or a flat to anyone who does not have the legal ‘right’ to be in the UK. The punishment was a moderate fine in the first instance, climbing to something more significant in the second.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) were quick to spotlight the insipid racism of this measure. Was an untrained landlord going to be able to tell a person’s immigration status by looking at a passport? At times a solicitor would need more information. If faced with a number of applicants for accommodation, surely a landlord would tend towards discriminating against someone with a foreign-sounding name, or an overseas accent, as a defensive measure against a strange and incomprehensible law? And wasn’t this policy simply going to work to drive irregular migrants deeper into the margins of society, more prone to exploitation by employers and landlords alike?

The movement proved this wasn’t about addressing concerns over migration

With parliamentary allies, JCWI successfully insisted on a pilot scheme to test the application and effects of the law. Five areas in the West Midlands (Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley) were earmarked by the government for the pilot, areas which perversely featured a higher than average number of Asian landlords than elsewhere.

There was little monitoring of the pilot on behalf of the government. It very much felt an exercise in lip service and box-ticking was underway. JCWI however paid far more attention and produced a comprehensive report at the end of the pilot scheme. The government duly ignored the findings, and in a spectacular neglect of their duties, they produced no report or assessment of the pilot scheme.

In the 2016 Immigration Act, the penalties for landlords were increased to larger fines and prison sentences. Landlords were also granted more powers to evict those without status in the UK. Yet there was still no analysis from the government as to how the scheme would play out once rolled out nationwide.

In March 2018, David Bolt, the independent chief inspector for borders and immigration did produce a report. A key finding of which was that the Right to Rent scheme:

“ … had yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance, with the Home Office failing to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use, while at the same time doing little to address the concerns of stakeholders.”

In other words, RtR was found to be a vindictive scheme with no effect on the things it claimed to want to address, and the government were not interested in seeing that effectiveness was delivered. The truth was, and still is, the hostile environment was about being nasty and not addressing concerns about immigration.

It is unsurprising that Theresa May’s declared aim of getting net migration under 100,000 a year failed year on year.

The government are appealing against a court ruling to scrap Right to Rent

JCWI were not satisfied at simply showing the government to be wrong, because the government were happy to ignore them, and in the summer of 2018 they launched a crowd-funder to raise the means to challenge RtR in the courts. On 1 March 2019, the courts ruled that the law was discriminatory and asked for the law to be scrapped or changed. The Home Office chose to use your tax money to appeal the ruling and that appeal will be heard on Wednesday 15 January 2020.

It’s down to migrants and migrants’ rights groups like JCWI that we’ve got this far. If the appeal loses, it would mean the first big lumps being knocked out of the hostile environment. We hope this means the beginning of the end has come for the most pernicious of policies.

JCWI is a migrants’ rights charity and it is collecting information for a new campaign asking for better, simpler and more affordable routes to regularisation for migrants in the UK without papers. For this, they need to gather information about the experiences of people who have been or are still undocumented. Please contact [email protected] if you might be able to help!

Image: JCWI