Home Office accused of turning ‘blind eye to discrimination’ in housing immigration crackdown

The Home Office has been accused of turning a “blind eye to discrimination” after rejecting its own inspector’s call to investigate a “racist” scheme targeting private housing tenants.

Support groups have reacted with fury after ministers quietly threw out recommendations designed to address widespread criticism of the crackdown, which makes landlords responsible for immigration checks.

In a scathing report, the chief inspector of borders and immigration warned that the Home Office was failing to assess the impact on “racial and other discrimination, exploitation and associated criminal activity, and homelessness”.

His report called for a new consultative panel to test allegations that worried landlords are refusing to rent to people without British passports, or “with a foreign name or foreign accent”.

An existing panel has not met since November 2016, it pointed out – and there is no mechanism for anyone to report suffering discrimination.

However, in a formal response placed on the inspector’s website, the Home Office has dismissed both the need for the new panel or for a wider evaluation of the Right to Rent scheme.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) – which has launched a legal challenge against Right to Rent – said the refusal to evaluate it was “disgraceful”.

Its research found that 42 per cent of landlords were unlikely to rent to someone without a British passport, with a quarter less likely to rent to people who “appear foreign”.

“It is causing a lot of damage by encouraging discrimination in the lettings market against ethnic minorities, or people from other nations,” Chai Patel, the JCWI’s legal director, told The Independent.

“The Home Office says people rejected by landlords will return home voluntarily, but there has been no increase in those numbers – so the scheme is not even successful in doing that.

“Instead, they are driven to rogue landlords, where they won’t have proper tenancy agreements and can’t be detected. That is what is happening, but the Home Office doesn’t want to know that.”

And Rachel Robinson, of the civil rights group Liberty, said: “This damning report shows Right to Rent to be ineffective and exposes this government’s astonishing ability to turn a blind eye to the discrimination its policies are sowing.

“The Home Office is failing to measure the scheme’s impact or take any action to reassure those concerned about discrimination – even refusing the inspector’s recommendation to consult further with rights’ groups.”

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) also seized on the report as a “damning critique of a failing policy”.

“Landlords should not be used as scapegoats for the failures of the border agencies. It is time to suspend this controversial and unwelcome policy,” said David Smith, the RLA’s director of policy.

Right to Rent was introduced in parts of the West Midlands in September 2014 and extended across the rest of England in February 2016.

Ministers said it would “deter those who seek to exploit illegal residents by providing illegal and unsafe accommodation”, as well as cut immigration and trafficking of migrant workers.

Landlords who lease properties to illegal immigrants can be fined up to £1,000 for a first offence, or jailed for up to five years.

However, Mr Bolt’s report – slipped out just before Easter, alongside three other immigration studies – revealed that not a single prosecution has taken place.

Between February 2016 and July 2017, a total of 265 fines were imposed after investigations into 468 individuals, leading to £165,520 of penalties.

But, Mr Bolt concluded: “The Right to Rent scheme is yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance. The Home Office has failed to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use.”

He drew attention to concerns “such as discrimination by landlords against particular groups or types of prospective tenants, exploitation and homelessness” and called for “more grip and urgency”.

But the Home Office defended the level of evaluation, while also insisting the number of fines imposed showed that “where action is needed it is being taken”.

A spokeswoman said: “We have met with representatives from the rental sector to discuss and monitor the scheme, and a full evaluation was carried out before we rolled Right to Rent out across England, but we are not complacent.

“We will take the independent chief inspector’s recommendations into account as we continue to take steps to ensure the scheme is implemented, evaluated and communicated as effectively as possible.”

She also pointed to a code of practice for landlords and “important safeguards to protect vulnerable groups” by exempting refuges and hostels from the checking requirement.

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