New ‘Right to Rent’ rules for EU citizens: A disaster waiting to happen

New ‘Right to Rent’ rules for EU citizens: A disaster waiting to happen

From July 1 2021, tens of thousands of EU citizens (we are using ‘EU citizens’ as short-hand for European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss citizens) will wake up without immigration status. They will no longer be able to legally rent a private home. Problems with the new digital-only ‘view and prove’ system also mean that many EU citizens with status could find it incredibly difficult, even impossible, to prove their legal ‘right to rent’ a private home. In the face of this disaster waiting to happen, we must continue to demand that the ‘Right to Rent’ policy is abolished.

What is the Right to Rent?

The Right to Rent policy which currently operates in England is one in a series of hostile environment policies. The stated aim of these policies is ‘to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’.

Under the Right to Rent policy, the majority of private landlords (and agents acting on their behalf) are legally obliged to check the immigration status of prospective renters, to see if they have a legally defined Right to Rent.[1] Landlords must also conduct follow-up checks within specific timeframes on renters who only have a time-limited right to live in the UK.

Private landlords can face a fine of up to £3,000 or a criminal conviction if they do not conduct such checks and they are found to be renting to someone without the legal right to rent.

Reinforcing borders in housing; risking homelessness

Threatening landlords with punishment if they do not comply with being de-facto border guards is a recipe for disaster.

As our own research and research from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) finds, the Right to Rent policy risks encouraging landlords to not even consider renting homes to non-British citizens and racially minoritised people. In 2019, the High Court agreed. It found that because of the Right to Rent policy, ‘landlords are discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity’.

But rather than abolish the policy, the Home Office appealed the judgment. The Court of Appeal subsequently ruled that the Right to Rent policy represented a ‘proportionate means of achieving its legitimate objective and [is] thus justified’.

This judgment was deeply concerning. It meant the continuation of a policy that makes it harder for migrants, people perceived to be migrants, racially minoritised people and people without British passports to have a decent place to call home. And from July 1 2021, the scope of people facing the consequences of the Right to Rent policy will increase.

Right to Rent policy changes affecting EU citizens

For EU citizens and their non-EU family members, June 30 2021 is the deadline for applying to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to continue living in the UK. Late applications can be made where there are ‘reasonable grounds’. However, the Home Office guidance for caseworkers risks being left to the interpretation of the decision-maker, which could lead to incorrect decisions – with significant implications for the applicant.  

But those applying after the deadline will still lose their current rights from 1 July. So tens of thousands of EU citizens and their family members, especially the most marginalised, will be caught in this hostile environment. They’ll lose their immigration status until they have submitted an application that is approved. They face instantly being denied recourse to public funds – and the very real risk of homelessness as a result.

But there is another key reason why EU citizens and their family members risk being caught up in the hostile environment for migrants within our housing system. From July 1, EU citizens will have to use a digital-only ‘view and prove’ system to prove their legally defined right to rent a home. They will no longer be able to use physical identification as proof.

All this – despite that now infamous ‘promise’ in 2016 from Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, and Michael Gove that ‘EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present’.

How EU citizens will need to evidence their right to rent

The largest campaign organisation for EU citizens in the UK, the3million, has produced a detailed and extremely helpful guide explaining the process.[2] In short, in order to prove their Right to Rent, EU citizens must:

  • visit the government’s ‘View and prove your status’ website and enter their personal details
  • receive a security code that is sent to them by text or email
  • enter the security code into the government’s website
  • outline that they want to access their status to show a landlord or agent that they have a legally defined right to rent
  • receive a share code, which expires after 30 days, and share this code with the prospective landlord or agent – who then needs to verify online that the renter has the legally defined right to rent

A rule change that could cause more homelessness

Many renters know all too well that they get overlooked by landlords when delays or ‘inconveniences’ appear as they look for a private home. The digital-only system for EU citizens risks being seen as another huge inconvenience.

Understanding how the system will work is exhausting in itself. Some landlords have already said they are less likely to rent to people without a British passport because of Right to Rent. So, it’s not hard to imagine that landlords will find this new system off-putting, to the detriment of prospective renters from the EU.

This policy is also a form of digital exclusion. EU citizens who don’t have access to a computer or a phone will not be able to use the ‘view and prove’ system. How can they prove their legally defined right to rent?

Also, an extensive backlog of applications to be processed under the EUSS presents a further problem. It means that despite applying to the EUSS before the deadline, hundreds of thousands of EU citizens will be unlikely to have the decision on their status needed to use this flawed and unfair system.  

It is painfully clear that the digital only ‘view and prove’ system will make it much harder, a lot of times impossible, for EU citizens and their families to find a private home. Its operation, alongside the Right to Rent policy, risks making homelessness numbers worse. And if people from these groups end up on the streets, they are vulnerable to the government’s callous rough sleeper removal policy.

If this digital-only system is rolled out more widely then these are also potential consequences for other foreign citizens. This is a real concern, given the government’s desire to move to a ‘fully digital environment’.

Unfortunately, the government keeps swatting away the many concerns raised about the digital-only system.

We must abolish the Right to Rent policy

Organisations have been campaigning hard for EU citizens and their family members to be able to use physical documentation to evidence their right to rent. Importantly, this would reduce the risk of these groups facing discrimination and exclusion that could lead to them becoming homeless.

But this risk will still exist whilst the Right to Rent policy remains intact. Whilst this cruel policy remains, foreign nationals, racially minoritised people, and people without British passports are at increased risk of being denied access to a home. As such, we must also remain focused on calling for the abolition of the Right to Rent policy, so that no one faces immigration checks that denies their right to a safe home.

[1] For an outline of the letting arrangements that fall within the Right to Rent scheme, see pages 15–17 of the Draft Code of practice on right to rent: Civil penalty scheme for landlords and their agents

[2] Thanks to the3million for providing insights that led to us writing this blog