Last week, the High Court ruled that the ‘Right to Rent’ checks – implemented in the UK under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy as a way of preventing irregular migrants renting homes – have been causing racial and nationality-based discrimination on the part of landlords against prospective tenants. Such discrimination, the judge ruled in response to a challenge from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. He declared that the government has acted outside the limits of human rights law and that to extend the scheme beyond England in to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be irrational and unlawful.
Representatives of the Home Office attempted to argue that a) such discrimination is not happening on the large scale that is being suggested, and b) that even if it is happening it is the fault of the landlords, not of the Home Office itself. This argument was rejected by the judge, who said that if the scheme had not been put in place landlords would not have felt it necessary to discriminate in this way:
“It is my view that the scheme introduced by the government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not… the Government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the Scheme”.
– Mr Justice Martin Spencer
The ruling has been celebrated by civil society rights groups and asylum-seeking individuals across the UK, but unfortunately the Home Office has been granted permission to appeal the decision, arguing that it cannot be blamed for the actions of individual landlords. With no system of monitoring and evaluation in place from the government for the scheme itself, though, it is difficult to see how Home Office representatives will be able to prove this, and we sincerely hope that the appeal is an unsuccessful one.
The Government’s hostile environment policy has made claiming asylum in the UK a miserable process. When it was introduced in 2012-13, Theresa May described one of its key principles as being to “deport first and hear appeals later”, setting a bleak scene for the approach towards asylum seekers in the years that have followed. The UK is now one of the most unwelcoming countries in which to claim asylum. The number of people being granted refugee status is dropping year on year (most recent statistics can be viewed here), and Sajid Javid’s public statements about people crossing the Channel in boats – not to mention his response to the recent case of Shamima Begum – serve as a demonstration of the hostile and insular direction in which our politicians want to take us.
We cannot let such attitudes continue to govern our response to people in need of protection and support. We welcome last week’s decision on the ‘right to rent’ checks and look forward to supporting all future efforts to ensure it is not overturned.