Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (IB 06)

1. Purpose of Submission

1.1. The SFHA welcomes the invitation from the House of Common’s Public Bills Committee to submit written evidence on the Immigration Bill 2015-16.

1.2. Today’s submission is focused on the SFHA’s reaction to the Immigration Bill 2015-16 as introduced in the House of Commons, and emphasises our key areas of concern relating to housing as the voice of Scotland’s housing association’s and co-operatives.

2. Who we are

2.1. The SFHA exists to lead, represent and support housing associations and co-operatives throughout Scotland. There were 160 Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) across Scotland at the start of 2014. Their housing provision ranges across general and specialist need with around 280,000 homes, and over 5,000 places in supported accommodation. They currently add to new supply of housing, mainly for rent to people in need and at rents below market levels.

2.2. SFHA is the national voice of housing associations and co-operatives. Our role is to assist and support them to meet a diverse range of housing need, to provide high quality genuinely affordable housing and to develop sustainable communities. To this end, we wish to see Scotland develop a well-functioning housing system that is able to make a significant and effective contribution to tackling poverty, inequality and deprivation across Scotland.

3. SFHA response to the Immigration 2015-16 Bill

3.1. The SFHA questions the reasonableness and proportionality of Clauses 12-15 in the Immigration Bill regarding access to services, including introducing further offences for landlords and agents, and powers of eviction and repossession of homes.

3.2. It appears to us that there may be a strong case for modifying Clause 12 in the Immigration 2015-16 Bill, and for the repeal of the "Right to Rent" checks in the Immigration Act 2014. The rationale behind this is that the stringent "Right to Rent" checks may cause disproportionate and unnecessary stress upon our member’s resources that are already under pressure due to the financial impacts of supporting tenants through welfare reform, and other financial constraints. Moreover, the necessity to keep abreast of tenants with a limited right to rent throughout a tenancy to monitor whether the tenant’s right to rent has expired could further frustrate our sector though expenditure of time and labour.

3.3. The SFHA further queries whether it is the appropriate role for landlords to act as immigration officials and conduct "right to rent" checks on their tenants. This may require additional training for staff to recognise the Home Office approved forms of identification and carry out checks for fraud, as well as the extra cost of time taken to resolve any uncertainly surrounding the right to reside of their tenants using the Landlord’s helpline to ensure they are erring on the correct side of the law.

3.4. The SFHA calls for further scrutiny of the scale of impact that this legislation will have in comparison to the expenditure of effort by landlords to comply with the law. According to figures obtained from the Economist, since the "Right to Rent" checks were piloted in December 2015 across local authorities in the Midlands, only seven property owners were issued with notices under the scheme. [1] This suggests that the ‘Right to Rent’ checks may be an ineffective way to tackle illegal immigration, whilst consuming landlord’s precious time and labour from a cost/benefit perspective.

3.5. The SFHA is concerned that Clause 12, creating offences, will acutely increase the incidence of direct and indirect discrimination upon potential and existing tenants in the UK. In lieu of the delayed publishing of the UK Government’s report on the "Right to Rent" pilot, the SFHA refers to an independent report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).

3.6. This research found that 42% of landlords said that the "Right to Rent" requirements made them less likely to consider someone who did not have a British passport and, starkly, 27% of landlords responded that they were reluctant to engage with those with foreign accents or names. [2]

3.7. The JCWI report also questioned whether the "Right to Rent" checks satisfy the Public Sector Equality Duty contained in the Equality Act 2010 outlining that public authorities have a duty to eliminate discrimination and foster good relations when carrying out their functions. [3]

3.8. The potential opportunity for discrimination could be further compounded when considering that Clause 12 subsection (1) builds upon the penalties of the Immigration Act 2014 of maximum £3000 fines with additional prison sentences of up to five years. Keir Starmer, a Labour MP, described this in the Second reading while discussing the landlord groups that opposed the Immigration Act 2014:

"Those same landlord organisations also pointed a year ago to another danger: the potential for discrimination. That concern was simply put by them and simply understood by us: landlords, not properly understanding the task before them, concerned by the complications of immigration status and worried by the threat of legal sanction, will simply go to a default position where they will not rent to anybody who does not appear to them to be obviously British." [4]

3.9. To expand upon the additional pressures placed upon landlords to carry out the "Right to Rent" checks, the SFHA raises the issue of how reasonable it is for tenants to be able to access, and have the correct forms of identification. It is our concern that tenants will find it difficult to source the often expensive forms of identification required and this issue could be further magnified when considering those with chaotic lifestyles.

4. Conclusion and Recommendation

4.1. The SFHA recognises that in the context of the European refugee crisis the restriction in access to housing services outlined in Clauses 12-14 may attract popular support as the UK Government will be seen to be taking action to take control of the highly propagated media scenes in Calais.

4.2. However, it appears to the SFHA that the "Right to Rent" checks and subsequent enforcement may be a disproportionate and unnecessary burden upon the already stretched housing sector which will require careful and further consideration in the next steps of the legislation process.

References:

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, "No Passport Equals No Home" An independent evaluation of the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme, September 2015, available at

<http://www.jcwi.org.uk/sites/default/files/documets/No%20Passport%20Equals%20No%20Home%20Right%20to%20Rent%20Independent%20Evaluation_0.pdf> [accessed 16/10/2015]

Keir Starmer, Hansard Publication, Immigration Bill Second Reading, 13 October. Column 273. Available at <http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151013/debtext/151013-0004.htm > [accessed 16/10/2015]

The Economist, "Crisis Mismanagement", 8th August 2015. Available at <http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21660589-panicky-response-refugee-crisis-may-do-more-harm-good-crisis-mismanagement> [accessed 16/10/2015]

October 2015


[1] The Economist, "Crisis Mismanagement", 8th August 2015.

[2] The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, "No Passport Equals No Home" An independent evaluation of the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme, September 2015: p.11

[3] The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, p. 24

[4] Keir Starmer, Hansard Publication, Immigration Bill Second Reading, 13 October. Column 273.

Prepared 21st October 2015