Right to rent post-Brexit. How will it work?
As the scheduled date for the UK’s departure from the European Union slipped once again, EU citizens living in the UK faced further uncertainty. The scheduled 31 October Brexit date was for many an altogether inauspicious date, but in turn this lack of clarity over the UK’s departure from the EU has a knock-on effect on landlords for many reasons, and particularly on the status of EU citizens’ right to rent in the UK.
Introduced by Theresa May as Home Secretary in England in 2016, the Right to Rent scheme became a core plank in the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants. The Right to Rent scheme requires private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants. Landlords must carry out “reasonable checks” as to whether prospective tenants have the right to live in the UK, or face a £3,000 fine or up to five years in prison.
Even before its implementation, critics warned that the scheme would cause landlords to discriminate against foreign nationals and black and minority-ethnic British citizens, with some even warning it risked making tenants homeless.
In March 2019, the High Court heard a case brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) against the Government arguing the policy breached human rights because it discriminated against non-UK nationals who were in the country legitimately as well as British ethnic minorities.
The High Court ruled in favour of JCWI finding that the rules aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from renting properties were discriminatory and breached human rights laws.
Mr Justice Spencer halted the roll-out of the scheme to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland until further evaluation. The Home Office said it was disappointed by the ruling but has appealed. Spencer said the scheme failed to have any effect on the intended aim of controlling immigration and even if it had, this was “significantly outweighed by the discriminatory effect”.
Fulfilling the requirements of the policy has concerned some landlords to the extent that research shows 44 per cent of private landlords said they were less likely to rent to those without a British passport.
The research also found that 53 per cent of landlords were less likely to rent to those with limited time to remain in the UK, while 20 per cent said that they were less likely to consider letting property to EU or EEA nationals.
The Government’s appeal against the High Court ruling has now been scheduled for 14–15 January. The appeal will feature in the same month as the new Brexit deadline of 31 January 2020, but we still have to wait to see what the result of the general election on 12 December will bring first.
NLA Director of Policy and Practice Chris Norris is a member of the industry-wide government consultation panel on Right to Rent, but there has not been a meeting for some months.
Currently, the High Court judgement has no bearing on the operation of the scheme and there has been no further movement since the Government confirmed they would appeal.
In the meantime, the uncertainty weighs heavily for EU nationals looking for a new rental property in a market increasingly short on stock, and for landlords wanting to rent out their properties fairly. The appeal will come against a backdrop of an all-time low in confidence in the prospects for the UK private rental sector and landlords’ own lettings business.
One NLA member told our latest quarterly survey: “In some cases we rent to international students and workers, and everyone is unsure of what's going on with funding and residency.” Another member said: “My Wales property is an HMO, reliant on EU migration. Brexit has killed the market.”
“The Brexit delay doesn’t directly impact on the scheme’s operation, but it does perpetuate the uncertainty for landlords as we don’t know how EU nationals will be treated for immigration purposes,” Norris says.
For more guidance, visit www.landlords.org.uk or the Government’s portal at www.gov.uk/check-tenant-right-to-rent-documents/how-to-check
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