Comment: Right to rent checks must avoid a return to discrimination of the past
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The new lettings policy, designed to curb illegal immigration, is already encouraging racial discrimination from agents and landlords
Interviewed in the Metro, Camden resident Jazzie B, founder member of dance group Soul II Soul, describes his adventures in property ownership. He bought his first home on Camden Road in 1988, before ever scoring a record deal, let alone his biggest hit single, Back to Life.
Benefitting from the property boom of the late-80s he describes how much easier it was for him to find a secure home than it had been for his parents, who are of Antiguan descent – his father arrived in London at the height of the scandalous post-War “No blacks, No Irish” era of lettings.
While it may have been easier for Jazzie B to buy Camden property in the 1980s than it is for us today, we should still rejoice that the prejudice his parents faced from landlords in the mid-20th century is now heavily legislated against and is no longer culturally accepted.
Except that, after years of fighting housing discrimination, culminating in the Equality Act 2010, the Government’s introduction of Right to Rent, a scheme where landlords must check the immigration status of new tenants as part of a crackdown on illegal migrants, has seen landlords discriminating against “foreign” tenants once again.
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The scheme has been trialled in the West Midlands and is set to be rolled out nationwide from next February after a report found that 109 people who were in Britain illegally have been identified as a result of the six-month trial.
However, the same report also found that a small number of private landlords have instructed their letting agents not to let to “any foreigners” as a direct result of the checks.
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One lettings agent reportedly told an Asian applicant that the Right to Rent checks would cost extra so he would need to see if landlords were willing to accept his application, while another said that if a prospective tenant was white with a local accent they didn’t need to have their application checked at all.
The report stresses that these attitudes affected only a small proportion of transactions in the trial, but it’s impossible to ignore the worrying tendency of the compulsory scheme to re-introduce racism and discrimination to the housing market. This must be effectively counterbalanced when the scheme is rolled out more widely if we’re to avoid the mistakes of the past.