New laws could see landlords turn people away based on race
The Immigration Bill 2016 is nearing the end of its passage through parliament.
Today, the last clauses will ping-pong between the House of Lords and the Commons. Yesterday, Lord Dubs’s amendment to welcome 3,000 unaccompanied children stranded within Europe was rejected in the Commons.
This amendment, rightly, received much media coverage, amid mounting concerns about the welfare of these children. But most of the bill’s passage has been characterised by little discussion outside parliament.
Yet the proposed legislation contains clauses that are likely to have major impacts on both legally-resident migrants and British citizens.
The focus of the bill is illegal working by undocumented migrants, a diverse group of people mostly comprising individuals who are visa or asylum overstayers. The government aims to make life as difficult as possible for undocumented migrants, preventing them from remaining in the UK by making it harder for them to survive.
Clauses in the bill will introduce criminal sanctions for employers who fail to check the documentation of their staff – previously criminal penalties only applied to those who knowingly employed workers who did not have permission to remain in the UK.
When the new legislation is implemented, it will also become a criminal offence for undocumented migrants to drive in the UK.
The bill extends the powers of the Immigration Act 2014 and will require banks and building societies to undertake periodic checks to determine whether their customers are legally resident in the UK. Little detail has emerged about the nature of these checks or how banks will avoid unlawful discrimination.
The new legislation will also bring in criminal sanctions for private landlords who rent accommodation to those without permission to reside in the UK. Again this builds on powers introduced in the Immigration Act 2014, specifically, the ‘right to rent’ duties applying to England.
Since February 2016 landlords who let property to someone without the right to stay in the UK can be fined up to £3,000 for each person concerned.
However, the government has made little effort to communicate these obligations to landlords, who cannot be expected to know if the passports and visas of would-be tenants are forged or genuine.
An independent evaluation of the pilot of the right to rent duty (undertaken in the West Midlands) has yet to be published by the Home Office.
The bill proposes to bring landlord sanctions in line with employment, introducing criminal sanctions for landlords who fail to check documentation. Faced with this prospect many landlords may not take the risk of renting property to migrants legally resident in the UK or to British citizens from visible minority ethnic groups.
The legal charity, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants argues that landlord checks ‘encourage discrimination’. Its own survey of landlords suggested 42 per cent of them say that the immigration checks have made them less likely to consider someone who does not have a British passport.
Some 27 per cent of landlords in the survey said they are reluctant to engage with those with foreign accents or names. Checks are not being undertaken uniformly for all tenants, but are instead directed at individuals who appear “foreign”.
Nearly one in five (18 per cent) of households live in the private rental sector in the UK. Clearly, substantial numbers of British citizens may be affected by the requirements made of private landlords.
The overwhelming majority of UK adults have bank or building society accounts and are potentially at risk of mistakes when banks check the immigration status of customers. Banks do make mistakes and do close accounts to the distress and inconvenience of loyal customers.
Given these new powers, the Government must publish the evaluation of the ‘right to rent’ pilot. In future is essential that these new powers are subject to on-going scrutiny.
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