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Immigration: “Right to Rent” Scheme

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact and effectiveness of the “right to rent” scheme following the most recent report of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration into their “hostile environment” measures, An Inspection of the “Right to Rent” Scheme.

My Lords, the Government have undertaken to reconvene the landlords consultative panel and to work with it to monitor the operation and impact of the scheme. We continue to raise awareness in this sector to promote compliance and in the past year the right to rent guidance has been viewed online nearly 450,000 times.

My Lords, that is welcome news and it is also welcome that the Government are reviewing their hostile/compliant environment regime, though it is not clear to what extent that will include a proper, thorough review of right to rent schemes. In view of the inspector’s damning observations that hitherto there has been no attempt to measure its impact and that it has yet to demonstrate its worth, plus evidence from the Residential Landlords Association and others of discriminatory consequences, will the Government now suspend the scheme until they have conducted this proper, thorough evaluation that the inspector and others have called for?

My Lords, the Government have no intention of scrapping the scheme. The first phase of the scheme, in the West Midlands, was subject to evaluation by Home Office Analysis and Insight to test its impact on discrimination, vulnerable groups and homelessness, as well as its impact on the sector and local authorities. The Home Office report published on 20 October 2015 found no evidence that the scheme was having any adverse impact on any of these. It is important that noble Lords note that the right to rent scheme is relatively new. It should not be seen in isolation but as one of a number of provisions that deter illegal immigration and restrict the number of illegal migrants establishing a settled life in the UK.

My Lords, the chief inspector’s report calls for monitoring and evaluation of the right to rent measures in terms of racial and other discrimination. He, like many in this House when the issue was debated, is concerned that risk-averse landlords could refuse to rent to black and minority ethnic tenants or those who have foreign-sounding names. Will the Minister tell the House how the Government are monitoring racial and other discrimination, and what baseline data they are using to determine whether discrimination has increased as a result of the right to rent scheme?

As I said to the noble Baroness, an evaluation by the Home Office found no evidence of discrimination. We have found no levels of discrimination to date but we intend to reconvene the panel and monitor the effects of the scheme, as we do with any legislation.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, given the difficulties of removing what might be up to 1 million illegal immigrants, it makes good sense to try to bring in measures that would encourage them to leave of their own accord? Is she aware that recent opinion polls have shown that between 70% and 80% of the public agree with the measures that the Government are taking?

I agree with the noble Lord that if someone is here illegally, they should leave of their own accord. He is absolutely right that the public support that approach. It is also important to note that in 1997, as part of the “compliant environment” measures, the then Labour Government introduced the right-to-work proposals. To date those have worked well. Nobody should be in this country if they are not legally entitled to be.

My Lords, when the Bill went through this House, a number of us warned that the Government were turning landlords into unpaid and unqualified immigration officers as they now had to check on the immigration status of tenants or face penalties. As a landlord, I quite understand why landlords want to play it safe and rent only to people with bona fide UK passports, thus discriminating against the 17% of UK citizens who do not have a passport and those people who have a perfectly legal right to rent in this country but do not have proper paperwork. Is it right that landlords such as myself should be treated as unpaid immigration officers?

My Lords, the Government do not expect landlords to be immigration experts. They are asked to carry out checks based on checks that were previously carried out in the sector. Landlords and agents are reminded in a code of practice of the need to conduct checks against all prospective tenants in a consistent manner. I understand my noble friend’s concerns but I say to him that the list of acceptable documents is broad and it is clear that the checks are not based solely on the examination of passports or immigration documents.

My Lords, recommendation 3 of the independent inspector’s report called on the Government to establish,

“a new ‘Right to Rent Consultative Panel’”,

with a remit to tackle the very issues the noble Earl raised in his question. Why have the Government not agreed to that?

My Lords, we have agreed to that and we are planning to reconvene the landlords consultative panel this year, in response to the noble Earl’s question.

My Lords, I declare my interest as the co-chair of the consultative panel on right to rent at the Home Office. I am delighted to hear today that we are to be called together again; it has been 18 months since we last met. Looking at this report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, does the Minister share my disappointment that, regarding the hostile environment we hoped would be created for rogue landlords, who willingly and knowingly take in illegal immigrants and then exploit them because they know no one will ever complain—whatever the rent and however awful the conditions—the report indicates that in fact very little has happened in that regard?

I am glad that the noble Lord has brought up rogue landlords because during the housing Bill—a period of our lives we will never forget—we discussed this at length. To date, 400 rogue landlords have been fined. I hope the noble Lord is on the reconvened consultative panel—