Compulsory checks by landlords on the immigration status of new tenants are to be introduced across the country from February, Home Office ministers have announced.
The decision follows an official evaluation of the first six months of a pilot scheme in the West Midlands, which concluded that there were “no major differences” for white British and black and other minority ethnic tenants in renting accommodation.
The right to rent scheme, which is being introduced as part of the government’s drive to “create a hostile environment for illegal migrants”, has been attacked by the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, as a modern-day equivalent of the “no dogs, no Irish, no blacks” signs seen in boarding house windows 50 years ago.
Research by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found some landlords were reluctant to rent out properties to people with foreign-sounding names and to those without a British passport.
The report says 109 people who were in Britain illegally were identified as a result of the compulsory checks during the six-month pilot. Sixty-three of these people were previously unknown to the Home Office. Only five penalty notices were issued to landlords for failing to enforce the checks.
A “mystery shopper” exercise carried out for the official evaluation found that potential tenants who were black or from other minority ethnic groups were asked to provide more information – such as references and how long they had lived in the area – than potential white tenants.
The official report quotes the experience of one Asian “shopper” who phoned a landlord in response to a card advert: “The landlord said that if I was under that scheme he was not going to bother because he had a local person who wanted the property and it was much easier to rent to them.”
A second Asian shopper who went to an independent letting agent reported: “I was told they needed to look at what they had that was suitable for me and they needed to check with the landlords on whether the landlord wanted to do the right to rent check because it cost extra.”
The evaluation report says that while such responses appeared to imply an element of discrimination, they amounted to only a small number of instances, and the vast majority of comments from the mystery shoppers did not allude to any discrimination.
Crisis, the homelessness charity, said it was alarmed by evidence in the report that some people had become homeless as a result of the checks. Its spokesman Matt Downie said: “Crisis has already raised serious concerns that requiring landlords to check the immigration status of renters could make it even harder for homeless people to find a place to live, and this report shows that our fears are well founded.
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“It is deeply troubling that in the pilot area, six of the local charities surveyed said that people they represent had become homeless as a result of the scheme, while seven indicated that people with the right to rent were struggling to find accommodation.”
The immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said: “Right to rent checks are quick and simple, and many responsible landlords already do them as a matter of routine. We are providing landlords in England with all the advice and support they need before the checks go live on 1 February 2016.
“The new rules are part of the Immigration Act 2014 which introduced measures to reform the immigration system. Right to rent is about deterring those who are illegally resident from remaining in the UK. Those with a legitimate right to be here will be able to prove this easily and will not be adversely affected.”
Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “We now know why the government tried to conceal this report before MPs voted on the Immigration Bill. It threatens to make Britain a more hostile place for anybody with a foreign-sounding name or accent. Now that the government has evidence that Right to Rent led to some landlords opting for tenants with ‘local accents’, the home secretary must find convincing answers to prevent discrimination or drop her plans. If she fails, Theresa May risks entrenching casual discrimination in the housing market, which has no place in 21st century Britain.”