Immigration Act 2014 (Commencement No. 6) Order 2016 — Motion to Annul

– in the House of Lords at 7:57 pm on 24th February 2016.

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Moved by Baroness Hamwee

That a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Immigration Act 2014 (Commencement No. 6) Order 2016, laid before the House on 11 January, be annulled (SI 2016/11).

Relevant document: 22nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 8:09 pm, 24th February 2016

My Lords, when the requirements to check immigration status were introduced into what became the last Immigration Act, they were known as the tenant’s right to rent. Initially our concerns were about issues such as the potential for racial discrimination and a dislike of using legislation to send a message. However, tonight I will talk also about the landlord’s right to rent in the sense of hurdles to letting, which we see in these regulations and in the Act with provisions that require landlords to be part of our border enforcement.

It is no secret that the requirements were included in the 2014 Act. Following negotiations between the coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats agreed to their inclusion in that legislation on the basis that there would be a pilot—

“a carefully phased approach to implementation”—[ Official Report , 3/4/14; col. 1089.], to quote the then Minister. He said that the rollout would allow proper evaluation to ensure that the scheme delivered its objectives without unintended consequences. I am sure that it was not intended to have such an impact on legal immigrants and British citizens. Whether one calls it a pilot, phasing, a rollout or a pathfinder, it is common sense to evaluate and assess experience and, where necessary, to adjust provisions.

However, the Prime Minister announced a nationwide rollout from the West Midlands pilot immediately on winning the 2015 election while the pilot was still in progress. Indeed, the Home Office’s evaluation was published only on the same day as the Pubic Bill Committee in the Commons took evidence on the current Immigration Bill, which extends the provisions from civil sanctions to criminal penalties. So, noble Lords may understand why we regard this as about using legislation to send a message.

My Motion would stop the rollout. Labour has a Motion to Regret calling for more consultation. I do not believe that it is more consultation that is needed—it is more evidence and more experience of a limited scheme. I cannot hide my disappointment that the Labour Front Bench will apparently not support us in our Motion, particularly given that the Labour Front Bench in the Commons was keen to support Tim Farron’s equivalent Motion to Annul. One aspect of scrutiny—this House’s job—is to consider the workability of the Government’s policies. To quote again from the Minister’s assurances in 2014: “Checks”—that is checks on prospective tenants—

“should be light touch in nature and workable, without creating additional burdens and costs”.—[ Official Report , 10/3/14; col. 1651].

He also said that the scheme need not “introduce excessive bureaucracy”. I do not think that that would resonate with the letting agent whom I heard interviewed on Radio 4’s “You and Yours” programme. What he said was: “I have become an immigration officer”. Indeed, he has become an immigration officer who is liable to civil penalties and who, under the current Bill, will face criminal sanctions.

Landlords have to make reasonable inquiries as to the immigration status of all the occupants before letting a property. Well, it is not actually that easy. I have been through the material on the Home Office website. The user guide is 39 pages long and there are 12 hyperlinks—there may be more; I may have miscounted —plus a code of practice plus a short guide. There are 25 types of document which may show immigration status, more if there has been a name change. These have to be examined and copied. And not all of them are invalid if the expiry date has lapsed.

A checking agent on the same programme said that there are 400 documents in the EU that would support the right to rent. Leaving aside unfamiliar documents, how easy is it to spot fakes? Last week, the court to which Ryanair successfully appealed against a fine for not spotting forged Greek passports—neither had the Spanish border force, as it happens—said that the way that regime was operated by the Home Office,

“offends fairly basic concepts of justice and indeed the rule of law”.

Landlords are not trained to spot forgeries. Indeed, the Residential Landlords Association found that more than 90% of landlords who were surveyed had not received information from the Government about rent checks, and 72% did not understand their obligations. All this from a Government who are keen on deregulation.

Yes, a Home Office inquiry line is available during office hours. But no messages can be left out of hours —I know because I phoned it out of hours. Most tenanted property is let by landlords with only one or a very few properties, and I dare say that many viewings are outside office hours in what is a very fast-moving market.

This is a problem for tenants, too, and not just because landlords will be passing on the costs of this exercise; and it is a problem not only for those with a right to be here but for those who are here through less traditional routes. Last week I had an email from the mother of a student who is on a year abroad as part of her studies and who is trying to arrange accommodation for the next academic year. She has to show her passport. She and her friends have already lost one apartment because of the requirements. The passport and the person have to be in the same place, or virtually so via videolink. But if you are abroad and you are doing it by videolink you would have to have sent your passport—your original documents—in advance. Which of us would be confident about sending a passport into the wide blue yonder? I asked this lady how she knew about the Motion. She said: “It is the talk of the staff room”. This is not just an issue for the Westminster bubble; it is something that is understood to be affecting the whole of our society.

The letting agent to whom I have referred was concerned that vulnerable people are being turned away. These were real prospective tenants. He mentioned people who could not afford passports. I believe that 17% of UK nationals do not have a passport. He mentioned Travelling people wanting to rent for their elderly relatives and the difficulties they had in proving their status. He also mentioned people who are abroad at the relevant time.

Of course I am aware of the consultative panel established to oversee the scheme, although I note that its minutes are not published. However, I have confidence that nobody could be more capable than the noble Lord, Lord Best, who co-chairs the panel, of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The Home Office’s evaluation of the first six months in the pilot area itself reports that,

“sample sizes are low which means the findings should be seen as indicative, rather than definitive”.

They are not only low—I would say extremely low—but not representative. Most tenants have not moved since the scheme started and so have no experience of it. The majority of the tenants in question were students, for whom the evidence of immigration status might be easier, although I have to say that the NUS tells me that this is not as straightforward as we had understood it. Only 62 landlords had taken on a new tenant, of whom only 26 had conducted checks. There is so little experience of the impact.

Two-thirds of the tenants described themselves as white, with only 23 as coming from an ethnic minority group. The potential for discrimination was, and is, a major concern. Indeed, actual discrimination has been reported. One also cannot ignore the preference for tenants who do not appear foreign or whose right to rent is easy to check. That was also shown in an independent evaluation for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, by a YouGov poll for Shelter and in a survey by the property information website PIMS. But even if there is no blatant racism, in a sellers’ market—and renting is a sellers’ market—discrimination is the outcome of landlords taking the easiest decisions. Six of the local charities surveyed by the Home Office said their clients had become homeless as a result of the scheme. Seven reported people entitled to rent, but not with the right documentation, who were struggling to find accommodation. The stated aims of the scheme are to reduce the availability of accommodation for people illegally in the UK, to make it more difficult for them to establish a settled lifestyle through stable housing and to reinforce action against rogue landlords who target vulnerable tenants by putting them in substandard accommodation. The Government should tackle that problem anyway and they have the means to do it.

What evidence is there that these aims are met? A large proportion of undocumented migrants live with family or friends, sofa-surf or are homeless or destitute. They do not seek to access the private rented sector. We know that in the labour market immigrants who have every right to be here and every right to work often do not realise that they have those rights and so are more vulnerable to exploitation. I suspect the same might be true in the tenancy sector. Of the 109 irregular migrants who came to the attention of the Home Office during the pilot, only 26 were related to the scheme. The others were identified through normal enforcement activity.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of this House took the view that,

“the Home Office needs to do more to publicise the checks, in particular to the majority of small landlords”,

and,

“clarify the consequential impact on local authorities”,

which deal with homeless people who have been refused accommodation—we all know that local authorities face a great demand for housing. This is a scheme which in our view is unworkable, disproportionate, discriminatory, affects our reputation internationally among international students, and has a narrow focus on immigrants that badly affects the UK’s own citizens. This needs far longer testing and more and better evaluation and adjustment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees 8:15 pm, 24th February 2016

My Lords, if this Motion is agreed to, the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, may not be called by reason of pre-emption.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

My Lords, in Committee on the Immigration Bill on 20 January, I said that I supported delaying the roll-out of the pilot scheme. I said:

“I thought that the whole point of a pilot scheme was to ensure that what was being put forward was actually working as intended. However, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that two-thirds of landlords had not fully understood the code of practice on preventing illegal immigration or indeed the code of practice on avoiding discrimination, and that 50% of those who had been refused a tenancy felt discriminated against while 40% of tenants in the pilot area had not been asked for any identity documents. That is hardly a resounding success for the pilot scheme, yet the Government want to roll out this contentious scheme across the country next month. That cannot be the right answer”.—[Hansard, 20/1/16; cols.873-874.]

I still hold that view. I have great reservations about rolling out the scheme before the work has been properly done. The Residential Landlords Association recently surveyed almost 1,500 landlords across the country and showed that the vast majority of landlords simply do not have the information they need to undertake the checks properly. I am one of over 90% of landlords who said that they had not received any information from the Government about the right-to-rent checks by mail, email, from an advert or leaflet or from the internet, while 72% of landlords said that they did not understand their obligations under the policy. I only know about the right-to-rent checks because I am a Member of your Lordships’ House. I have received no other information.

Since Committee on the Bill on 20 January, the Minister has held a number of meetings with noble Lords, for which I thank him. My noble friend Lord Howard of Rising and I had one such meeting on not criminalising landlords who had done their best not to rent to illegals. We discussed whether immigration enforcement officers should be issued with clear guidance about when not to prosecute landlords who had done their best, so that only the deliberate flouters of the law could be pursued and prosecuted. I know that other such meetings with the Minister have also taken place on this subject. I do not know what the Minister has managed to achieve as a result of those meetings, so I will listen with great interest to what my noble friend says.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

We will not support the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, if it is put to a vote. I believe that this is the fifth or sixth such Motion moved by the noble Baroness’s party in respect of a statutory instrument in this Session. There appears to be a difference of view between us on the role of this House—the unelected House—in relation to such Motions on statutory instruments and the very exceptional circumstances in which voting on such a Motion might be justified in this House. I may be wrong, but I believe that we voted on just two such Motions in relation to statutory instruments during the five-year period of the coalition Government.

The terms of our Motion express regret that the Immigration Act 2014 (Commencement No. 6) Order 2016 was laid following inadequate consultation, and asks the Government to undertake a further consultation before the terms of the order are implemented. This order extends the right-to-rent scheme to the whole of England, and the scheme restricts the access of illegal migrants to privately rented accommodation. The first phase of the scheme has been in operation in certain local authority areas in the West Midlands.

The Immigration Act 2014 was passed by the then coalition Government. Under it, landlords who failed to undertake the required checks whether prospective tenants had the necessary immigration status were liable to payment of a civil penalty. During the passage of that Bill, the then Government said in respect of the first phase of the scheme that they understood,

“the desire of noble Lords to ensure that the landlords scheme is ‘workable’ and that the provisions are tested and carefully evaluated”.

They said that it was their intention,

“to adopt a carefully phased approach to implementation and to ensure that we get the guidance and support services absolutely right before considering wider implementation beyond the first phase”.—[ Hansard, 3/4/14; col.1089.]

The Government also said that,

“one of the reasons why the rollout is important is that we need to check to see if there are any adverse implications in this policy”.—[ Hansard, 12/3/14; col.1800.]

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee commented in its recent report on this statutory instrument that:

“The Home Office … needs to clarify the consequential impact on local authorities”,

and whether the demand for local authority housing would increase as a result. The committee also said that,

“it appears to us that the Home Office needs to do more to publicise the checks, in particular to the majority of small landlords who do not belong to a professional association”.

In the light of just those two observations by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, there must be doubts as to whether the commitment given by the Government during the passage of the Immigration Bill 2014 to ensure that the guidance and support services were absolutely right before considering wider implementation beyond the first phase has been met. Likewise, there must be doubts about whether the commitment given to check if there were any adverse implications of the policy has been met in the light of the committee’s comment that the Home Office needed to be clear about the consequential effects of this legislation on local authorities and whether the demand for local authority housing would increase as a result.

Further doubts about whether there has been adequate consultation or discussion on the outcome of the pilot or first phase of the scheme in the West Midlands have been created by the comment of the Prime Minister last May, before the Home Office’s official valuation had been completed, that now that his party had a majority, the Government would roll out the scheme nationwide. The Home Office evaluation was not published, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said, until five months later, in October last year. Publication then was also after the new 2015 Immigration Bill was laid before Parliament with the Government’s reference to it building on the national rollout of the landlord scheme established under the Immigration Act 2014.

The new Bill, of course, takes things further and provides for criminal sanctions, including imprisonment, against landlords and agents who are found to have rented to someone who does not have the right to rent. The reality is that, despite a statement by the current Minister for Immigration during the passage of the Immigration Act 2014 that a clear assessment would need to be made at the end of the first phase in the West Midlands to inform the subsequent rollout, and that no further decision would be made before then, the Prime Minister in particular and the Government in general have done precisely that, since they made their decisions months before the Home Office evaluation of the scheme in the West Midlands was published, let alone consulted upon or discussed. As the Government will be aware from the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, both the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association have raised serious doubts about the right-to-rent policy and the evaluation that was undertaken of the scheme in the West Midlands.

The risk of discrimination under the right-to-rent scheme has been a major concern, and those concerns were expressed during the passage of the 2014 Act. The JCWI and ILPA have argued that the Home Office evaluation of the scheme in the West Midlands looked at discrimination only on the grounds of race based primarily on a mystery shopper exercise, but the Home Office report does refer to verbatim comments which suggest that there were a small number of instances of potentially discriminatory behaviour and that the Home Office Minister had stated that no “hard evidence” of discrimination had been found when the evaluation found clear evidence that it had taken place. The JCWI has listed evidence of discrimination found by the Home Office evaluation—and it is on a number of fronts—which includes evidence that British citizens without documentation have been adversely affected, and evidence reported by charities and voluntary organisations of increased homelessness as a result of the scheme, and difficulties finding accommodation among those with the right to rent but complicated documentation, and discrimination on the basis of nationality.

A YouGov poll conducted by Shelter in July last year found that one third of landlords were less likely to consider letting to people who do not hold a British passport, and 35% were less likely to consider someone whom they perceived to be a migrant. A survey of 300 landlords in September last year by a property information website asked who they would prefer to rent to when the new right-to-rent checks became compulsory in their area. Some 44% stated that they would rent to anyone with the required documents, but 47% stated that they would rent to British passport holders only. The JCWI says that the Home Office evaluation does not provide definitive evidence of the impact of the right-to-rent scheme on landlords, tenants and local communities, and that the Home Office report itself states that sample sizes are small and findings must be seen as indicative rather than definitive. The council also comments that the Home Office evaluation does not demonstrate that the right-to-rent scheme has or will achieve its stated aims of reducing the availability of accommodation for those residing illegally in the UK, discouraging those who stay illegally, encouraging those who are resident in the UK illegally to leave by making it more difficult to establish a settled lifestyle through stable housing, or reinforcing action against rogue landlords who target vulnerable tenants. The Home Office report itself states that just 26 referrals of irregular migrants were specifically related to the right-to-rent scheme.

I repeat the commitments the Government made during the passage of the Immigration Act 2014 that there would be a proper evaluation and clear assessment at the end of the first phase and that no further decisions would be taken before then, that it was essential to get as clear a level of detail as possible of the impact of the scheme in the West Midlands because the outcome would inform subsequent phases, that guidance and support services would have to be absolutely right before consideration could be given to wider implementation, and that the rollout was needed to see if there were any adverse implications of the policy. By no stretch of the imagination have those undertakings been delivered.

The Prime Minister’s statement last May that he would roll the scheme out nationwide before the Home Office evaluation had even been completed, let alone published, set out very clearly the Government’s attitude to the undertakings that had been given during the passage of the 2014 Act. Clearly, there is no consensus at all over either the thoroughness or the interpretation of the findings of the Home Office evaluation of the West Midlands scheme. The Government now have the opportunity to consult properly on their evaluation and take into account the views of others on the outcome of the scheme in the West Midlands, including what actions now need to be taken before any final conclusions are reached on whether to proceed to roll out the scheme nationwide, as well as before making it a criminal offence to rent property to someone without the required immigration status. I hope that that is an opportunity that the Government will now take.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat 8:30 pm, 24th February 2016

My Lords, during the passage of the Immigration Act 2014 through both your Lordships’ House and the other place, considerable disquiet was expressed about the right to rent clause.

The Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government were particularly unhappy about its ramifications. Eventually, a compromise was reached whereby a rigorous pilot scheme would take place in the West Midlands and only on its conclusion and satisfactory evaluation would a scheme be rolled out nationally. All previous speakers referred to this, but it is so important to reiterate and is the underlying reason behind my noble friend Lady Hamwee’s Motion.

Let me quote the Prime Minister’s speech on immigration in May 2015:

“The Liberal Democrats only wanted us to run a pilot … But now we’ve got a majority, we will roll it out nationwide”.

This statement contradicted assurances given to Parliament that any decision on a further rollout would take place only after a transparent and public evaluation that would allow Parliament sufficient time to debate, scrutinise and ultimately decide on any further stages of the scheme. This patently did not transpire. Thus, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for giving us the opportunity to put on record our thoughts on the inadequacy of the evaluation.

I start by examining the title of the proposal: “right to rent”. What does this mean, and what does it mean if the right to rent is not open to you? People who wish to rent a private home or a room in a house are looking for a roof over their heads. That is all. Let us put to one side for the moment the rights and wrongs of those without the necessary documentation being able to rent a home and think of them as people, rather than illegal immigrants. Are we saying that anybody—including British citizens, usually vulnerable ones—who fails to produce the paperwork set out by the Government will legitimately be put out on the streets, destitute, and that if you or I take pity on that individual, we, too, will suffer the consequences? That is morally repugnant. Will the Minister please tell me what will happen to people who cannot evidence their right to a roof over their heads?

Now let us think of them as illegal immigrants—as though they somehow cease to be human. Let us go along with it for a bit, because the Government’s argument is that these measures are acceptable because the prize at the end is worth it. I believe that the Government’s view is that creating a hostile environment that will make it difficult for illegal immigrants to have a settled life will, in time, be a deterrent, and that rogue landlords will be put out of business in the process. The Government may be right about that, but this then throws up a number of questions. Does the end then justify the means? More importantly, does the evaluation of the pilot scheme show us that there is evidence to support that the ends have indeed been met?

What are the means? They are, first, to deny a roof over the heads of those unable to produce the right papers; secondly, to get landlords to police it by forcing them to take on duties of immigration officers; and thirdly, to make sure that landlords do what is required of them by putting in place more and more draconian penalties if they get it wrong. However, I believe that the Government are playing with fire here, because creating that hostile environment to act as a deterrent risks enflaming community tensions, as people with foreign-sounding names and foreign accents without the necessary documentation, whether they are here legally or not, will be put to the back of the queue. It will be not only those with foreign characteristics but those vulnerable British people whose circumstances are such that they are unable immediately to produce the paperwork required. This includes the homeless, victims of domestic violence, victims of modern-day slavery and those caught in the mangles of the Home Office’s systems—something of which I have some knowledge, having handled immigration casework.

So far I have addressed only one half of the equation—the impact on tenants. What about the impact on landlords? Some 78% of rental properties belong to landlords who let only one or two properties. Buy-to-let landlords had not bargained on becoming an arm of the UK’s border agency. They, quite rightly in my opinion, do not feel qualified to pass judgment on the validity of documents arrayed before them. Indeed, the recent court case involving Ryanair, cited by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, illustrates perfectly the weakness of the Government’s policy of fining airlines for flying illegal immigrants into Britain. If airline staff are deemed ill equipped to scrutinise and identify forged documents, how on earth are ordinary citizens supposed to do so? The answer is: they will not. They will opt for the path of least resistance and let only to tenants who represent the least risk of them falling foul of the law.

Organisations such as Crisis, Shelter, St Mungo’s Broadway and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have all documented their concerns on these issues eloquently. Indeed, the JCWI went to the trouble of commissioning its own evaluation of the West Midlands pilot. I wonder whether the Minister has had a look at it. It is rather a good piece of work and ought to be given serious consideration.

The Home Office’s own evaluation of this pilot is flawed on a number of counts. Noble Lords have already cited some examples, but I shall give a few as a flavour of the lack of rigour displayed. The report states that sample sizes are small—some online surveys were completed by as few as five respondents; only four voluntary and charity sector organisations and five housing associations were interviewed for research, and the majority of tenants had not moved properties since the start of the pilot and would not, therefore, have any experience of the scheme. The list goes on. Nor does the pilot definitively conclude that it has met the aims set out by the Government.

I shall finish by reading from the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

“The importance of housing is recognised in the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes ‘the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate ... housing’. The United Kingdom is legally bound by this treaty. Protecting people’s human rights in housing is therefore important in its own right”.

I hope that the Government will take that statement on board and I am very sorry that Labour will not join us in voting down this order, especially since it did so in the other place.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee 8:45 pm, 24th February 2016

My Lords, I declare my interest as joint chair of the right-to-rent private landlords consultative panel at the Home Office. I jointly chair this panel with the Minister for Immigration, James

Brokenshire. We have been meeting to discuss the right-to-rent measure every month or two since September 2014, with sub-groups meeting between the main panel meetings.

I was very critical of the right-to-rent proposals in your Lordships’ House before they became part of the Immigration Act 2014. I tabled nine amendments, all relating to the practicalities of requiring landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. The House received a number of reassurances from the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for which I was grateful, including arrangements for a pilot scheme in the West Midlands.

The panel, which continues to meet, includes representatives of landlords, tenants, property agents, all the relevant local authorities, three government departments and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. From this perspective, I hope, therefore, that I can provide some answers to the questions arising on this issue.

First, has the Home Office taken the whole process seriously? I can say definitively that this exercise has been taken very seriously by the Minister and the army of civil servants working on its implementation. I cannot claim technical knowledge of research methodologies, but I have been impressed by the Home Office team responsible for the evaluation of the West Midlands pilot, led by Andrew Zurawan. As far as I can tell, the different techniques deployed by the in-house and external researchers—surveys, focus groups, mystery shopping, comparisons with a control area where the right to rent was not in force—have all been conscientiously carried out. I fully recognise the limitations of any pilot evaluation process: it may take years, not months, for effects to work through; larger-scale surveys or surveys at different times of the year could produce fuller results; and so on. However, within the obvious constraints of this exercise, I think the team did a pretty good job.

Secondly, what has been the outcome of these efforts to date? It was never to be expected that the critics of this measure would reverse their opinions and accept the right to rent as a good idea. Nevertheless, I detected that the arrangements, even in the pilot, were not proving massively onerous for landlords or property agents. With the subsequent improvements to the approach—revision to the guidance, clarification and simplification of requirements for documents—the position for the rollout from 1 February certainly seems to be generally, if somewhat grudgingly, accepted. I am simply not convinced that the right to rent is causing huge anxieties for landlords; I have talked to landlords and agents who are far more concerned about tax changes and other regulatory measures affecting them.

No respectable landlord would wish to be letting to someone who is here illegally, not least since that tenant might be apprehended and removed and leave suddenly with unpaid rent, so already, of course, there are referencing procedures for those applying for a tenancy. Now that it is possible to view the pictures of the required documents for those who do not have a passport, their legal status should actually be easier to check.

I raised the question at the panel with those representing managing and letting agents: would it be best to use a professional specialist company to handle this aspect of the vetting of your potential tenants? The response was that this would be a waste of money and quite unnecessary as the whole exercise was now straightforward enough. I wonder how many landlords do not seek proper references or carry out checks on the identity of people to whom they grant tenancies. I strongly suspect that the landlords who will be affected by this measure know very well the illegal status of the tenants and are taking advantage of them in extracting exorbitant rents for abysmal conditions. The great benefit of the Home Office’s interest in enforcing the right to rent in the West Midlands was shown to be in bolstering the efforts of local authorities to weed out some pretty unpleasant elements in the private rented sector. I make no secret of the fact that my own interest in this matter is based on the increased opportunities for prosecuting those who exploit people in overcrowded slum conditions.

Thirdly, what about the continuing anxieties that innocent landlords may unwittingly, through ignorance rather than malicious intent, still fail to identify an illegal migrant before allocating a tenancy to them, and, as a result, end up with a hefty fine? The panel has received a very clear message on the ongoing role of the Home Office in advising and supporting landlords and agents. Mostly people will go online and should now find the necessary information relatively easy to access. However, sometimes landlords or agents could encounter a lack of any documentation or have queries about the documents they do see. They will want a definitive decision from the Home Office itself. It is important to note that when Home Office officials are asked to check the identity of a potential tenant, they must respond within 48 hours. If the landlord or agent is not told that the individual has no right to rent within this period, the letting can go ahead. Based on experience from the pilot, the Home Office has geared up its staffing to meet its extended commitments. In addition to this checking service, everyday inquiries about the whole arrangement can be discussed with trained operators on an expert helpline.

Ministers have constantly reiterated the point that any prosecution requires a high standard of proof, demonstrating that a landlord actually knows, or has good reason to believe, that they are indeed letting to an illegal immigrant. Ministers have underlined the point that no one will be prosecuted for failing to identify a cleverly forged document or false passport, let alone be held liable if an illegal migrant moves in with a legitimate tenant unbeknown to the landlord. The Home Office will ensure that the CPS is fully aware of the policy intent. The object is to target the real rogues, the criminal landlords who knowingly and repeatedly flout the law. Nevertheless, if the Minister wishes to offer additional reassurances tonight to this effect, I am sure that would be appreciated.

Fourthly, is the Home Office investing enough in communications to ensure that landlords and tenants are alerted to the new requirement on them? The panel has received very regular reports on the many efforts being made to get the message across and I am confident that there can be no managing and letting agents who are still in the dark. Whether every one of the 1.8 million landlords in the UK is yet aware of the arrangement, I would not be so sure. However, I fear that some of these landlords are ignorant of a good many other responsibilities they should understand. This problem may be more to do with the way we organise rented housing in this country, with such huge numbers of “amateur landlords” who may have no expertise in property matters, rather than a problem with the Home Office. Of more concern is the issue of communicating with tenants who sub-let or owners who take in lodgers. These may well be harder to reach, despite the Home Office’s efforts, and it may take time for word to get around that checks are needed. In the early stages of the right to rent, tolerance will be needed if mistakes are made, and I note that the fine for a first offence, if it goes all the way to being prosecuted, is set at £80.

I fully accept that once the communications efforts have succeeded and most people are aware of the right- to-rent arrangements, there is the danger of discrimination against those who are in this country perfectly legitimately but might be thought to be illegal immigrants. Sadly, discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity has not been stamped out in the private rented sector. It was discerned as much among landlords in the control area, where right to rent was not an issue, as in the pilot area. Whether the problem will get worse or whether the raising in the right-to-rent procedures of the profile of discrimination as an issue will counterbalance it, I cannot tell. Right to rent could get the blame for suspected discrimination when in reality the problem lies elsewhere.

Today I hosted the launch by Crisis of an excellent report on the obstacles to renting privately for people who are on low incomes or have been homeless. We heard how few landlords now accept anyone in receipt of housing benefit. Indeed, 82% of landlords said they were not willing to house those who are homeless or about to become homeless. Many people face enormous difficulties in getting a rented home, quite outside the considerations of right to rent. Ministers have promised to continue to monitor the position in relation to discrimination in particular.

Bearing in mind that the right to rent was introduced in 2014 and that, after evaluating a pilot that did not demonstrate any insuperable problems, negative impacts from this measure have been addressed by Home Office Ministers and officials as conscientiously as could be hoped for, I cannot conclude that the rollout of the right to rent should be the subject of that most draconian of measures possible in your Lordships’ House, a fatal Motion of annulment.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, I have opposed these provisions from the outset, primarily because of the potential to increase discrimination in the housing market, but what is at issue now is whether full rollout of the scheme at this stage is consistent with the commitments made in both your Lordships’ House and the other place during the passage of the Immigration Act 2014. Like many other noble Lords who have spoken, I believe it is not.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said then that the Government’s intention was that the provision would be,

“subject to a phased implementation on a geographical basis. This will allow a proper evaluation of the scheme to ensure that it delivers its objectives without unintended consequences such as discrimination”.—[ Official Report , 10/3/14; col. 1648.]

Later, he promised a “carefully phased” approach to the implementation. I am sure I am not the only Member of your Lordships’ House who understood that to mean that there would be a series of pilots in different geographical areas and of different kinds to get a representative picture of its effects—not that it would forge ahead, after a single phase in a single geographical area, involving a quick and not completely representative pilot, with no proper public debate about what we have learned from it and just some changes to the code of practice, which ILPA argues,

“do not appear to constitute a substantive response to the concerns identified in the evaluation”.

I believe that sufficient concerns were raised to cause us to pause rather than steam ahead regardless, as urged also by the Residential Landlords Association on the basis of research that it has carried out. The only reason that we are having this debate is because of the Motions in front of us.

I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Best, so what I am about to say is in no way casting aspersions on his role. I am sure that he will have brought the greatest integrity and expertise to overseeing the pilot scheme, but forgive me if I am cynical. A number of noble Lords have referred to this already but when the Prime Minister declared in May, five months before publication of the conclusions of all the hard work that went into the pilot,

“now we’ve got a majority, we will roll it out nationwide”,

surely it rather gave the game away. It suggested that the pilot would turn into something of a charade. It was as if all that important and serious work did not matter because a decision had already been made that it should be rolled out. All right, there have been some improvements to the code of practice but they do not amount to an awful lot.

Perhaps what is happening is not quite as incomprehensible as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, argued in his powerful demolition of the policy in Committee on the current immigration Bill which, as my noble friend has said, makes matters worse by introducing criminal sanctions. During our debate in Committee, I asked the Minister what view the Government take of the evaluation carried out by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which we have already heard about and which,

“uncovered a number of worrying direct and indirect impacts of”,

the right to rent checks on tenants and landlords. For example, two-thirds of landlords in the survey stated that,

“they would be less likely to rent to someone who required a little time to provide documentation”,

while more than a quarter said that,

“they would be less likely to open discussions with someone who ‘had a name which doesn’t sound British’ or ‘had a foreign accent’”.

I accept that it was quite late then but as the Minister did not respond, I would appreciate it if he could do so now.

Would the Minister also care to comment on the Residential Landlords Association’s survey of nearly 1,500 landlords, which found that 45% said that they would rent out properties only to those who could provide the required documentation immediately when asking for a new tenancy and found that the great majority, as we have already heard, were totally unprepared?

Another issue raised in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, was that of the impact on lodgers. The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to this. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed to the lack of evidence about how the right to rent is working with this group. I raised this issue during the passage of the Immigration Act 2014, with specific reference to those taking in lodgers as a means of trying to cope with the bedroom tax. I know that these are few in number but as people become more aware of their responsibilities under this legislation, I cannot think of a greater disincentive to take in a lodger.

Of particular concern here are asylum seekers who rent a room in a private house rather than Home Office accommodation. This issue was raised during the passage of the 2014 Bill by the late Lord Avebury. I pay tribute to him as an indefatigable champion of the human rights of the most marginalised groups in our society. He is sadly missed when it comes to debates such as these, so all that I can do is to quote from him. He asked then:

“Can my noble friend elucidate what provisions are being made for documents to be produced by those who are occupying rooms in private houses because they are not covered by the provisions of Schedule 3, to which he has referred? They deal only with the accommodation that is provided to most asylum seekers under the 1999 Act when they cannot afford to pay for accommodation of their own. However, there is still an important residual group of people who find space in private houses. They will need documentary proof that they are allowed to live in those houses and thus ensure that landlords are not breaching the conditions by taking them in”.—[Hansard, 12/3/14, col. 1800.]

As ILPA explained, the problem arises because the definitions in the Act work on the basis of having leave whereas most asylum seekers are on temporary admission. The then Minister said that the Home Office will provide the necessary documentation to show that they have a right to accommodation but, according to ILPA, the Home Office subsequently declined to do so, requiring landlords and landladies to phone a helpline. Given that on the face of it the evidence will suggest that there is no right to rent, why would they bother?

The JCWI has already been made aware of an asylum-seeking family with a young child who have been unable to access private rented accommodation because of confusion over the right to rent. They were forced in the end to live in a hotel instead. The JCWI argues that a clear policy is vital in order to ensure that these individuals, who cannot be removed from the UK and who may, in some instances, have the right to rent, are not disadvantaged and rendered homeless as a result.

I make a plea to the Minister to look into this issue, involving a small group, but a particularly vulnerable one. Could he come back to us, on Report on the current Bill, with what steps the Home Office will take to provide the safeguards promised by James Brokenshire in the Commons on the last immigration Bill for those who fall through the cracks of the right to rent scheme in this way? It is already being rolled out, but we must have this sorted.

Much as I dislike this scheme and would like to see the back of it, I do not believe we have sufficient evidence yet from piloting either to abandon it now or to roll it out nationally. As the Residential Landlords Association argues, on the basis of a whole lot of evidence, a pause would be the sensible and responsible approach at this stage. I believe the Government should stick to their promise of a phased, geographical evaluation, and there should be a proper debate in both Houses as to what the lessons are in terms of its effectiveness in meeting the Government’s objectives and any unintended consequences, particularly as regards discrimination. As it is, we can only conclude that despite the serious efforts put into the pilot by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and others, the Government are determined to roll it out nationwide regardless, as the Prime Minister made clear in his immigration speech in May.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative 9:00 pm, 24th February 2016

My Lords, I am not going to support the fatal Motion, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the underlying thoughts behind it. I begin by declaring an interest: I am a small landlord and have rented property—in fact, three properties—for some 20 years, and therefore come with a degree of personal experience of the problems that landlords face when confronted by prospective tenants. I want to make only four points.

First, I endorse what the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, said with regard to the lack of knowledge. My knowledge of these requirements has come from being a Member of this House. I have not received, from the Home Office or from anywhere else for that matter, any detailed information regarding a landlord’s obligations, and I share the reservations expressed by the noble Earl.

Secondly, it is very difficult for landlords—and, incidentally, for people employing dailies as well—to interpret the documents that prospective tenants or employees produce. Very often we are told that the relevant documents are with solicitors; very often, the prospective tenant or employee has very limited language skills. It is often very difficult to determine whether or not somebody has a residential entitlement of the kind contemplated by the Home Office.

Thirdly, landlords like rapid reletting. They do not like voids; they like certainty. If they have any doubt about when or whom, or about the identity or legitimacy of a tenant, they will go for the safe option. Surprise, surprise—that will have a discriminatory consequence; that is a certainty.

Fourthly, and with utmost deference to the noble Lord, Lord Best, should we trust the discretion of the CPS? There is one fundamental rule that this House and the other place need to bear in mind: if you give a discretion to an official, it will be abused. My general principle is to give as little discretion to officials as possible. The CPS can come along and say, “We will exercise our discretion; we will be moderate and careful”. Some of them will, but many will not. I have a great deal of sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said. I also agreed with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said. He delivered forcefully and vigorously his strong objections to the scheme going ahead without fuller evaluation. I have to say that I felt that his outrage is synthetic if Labour will not join the Liberal Democrats in voting for my noble friend’s fatal Motion. It has no effect; it is just outrage without action.

The checking requirement is not expected to be onerous—that was a comment in the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum or some guidance document. Elsewhere, they state that a landlord or agent can carry out simple document checks—simple document checks. We have already heard that in fact they will have to refer to the Home Office and wait a couple of days. As the noble Viscount pointed out, landlords do not want to wait: they do not want voids. Tenants will lose the chance of the property. It is a particularly unfair responsibility on small landlords to have to check documents. The noble Lord, Lord Best, said that it was straightforward to do that checking, but that is absolutely not the case.

The judgment in the recent Ryanair case has been mentioned. The judge who found in favour of the airline said that its staff could not be expected to spot cleverly forged passports that even trained immigration officers found hard to detect.

Interesting evidence was given to the committee in the other place by Tony Smith, former director-general of the UK Border Force. He said that when he was regional director of UKBA, his enforcement teams,

“uncovered a significant number of ‘forgery factories’ in London who were manufacturing fake EEA identity cards … mainly being sold to migrants from non EEA countries who were working illegally in the UK. Although these documents would likely be identified as fraudulent at the border”— there is no guarantee—

“they are usually sufficient to pass the ‘reasonably apparent’ test to an employer. The same is likely to apply to the implementation of landlord sanctions”.

So a former Border Force director says that the number of forgeries in circulation makes it extremely difficult, even for immigration officers. He wrote:

“Although the EU Council has called on all Member States to adopt common designs and security features”,

for identity cards for a decade,

“not all EEA countries have done so”.

Of course, the UK does not have a permanent resident card for foreign nationals with indefinite leave to remain, equivalent to the US green card, so there is no one document.

Even as a Member of the European Parliament, I was dealing with quite a lot of immigration cases, and people would often turn up with a whole batch of letters from the Home Office which apparently attested to their immigration status. I was completely unequipped to work out what they all meant. There was a set of different stamps and letters, instead of one simple document. To put this onus on landlords is not appropriate.

I also do not understand what is apparently regarded as the concession of allowing expired biometric residence documents and immigration status documents to be recognised. How is a landlord to know which expired documents can be relied on and which cannot? Perhaps the Minister can give us an answer to that.

I noticed something in the Financial Times a few months ago that reminded me that a landlord must identify all adult occupiers who will use the property as their main home, whether or not they are named in the tenancy agreement. The columnist wrote that, “Nosiness may be necessary”, to inquire who else is going to live in the property who is not in the tenancy agreement. The column also recommended that you may,

“need to pay for a professional opinion”,

which all raises the cost that will no doubt be passed on in the rent. Noble Lords opposite have made the point about how they only know about these requirements from being Members of this House. Obviously, not all landlords are Members of this House. There has been a suggestion that the dissemination of information will largely rely on electronic media and people knowing where to seek out the information. The Residential Landlords Association made the point that 90% said that they had not received any information from the Government either by email, from an advert, from a leaflet or from the internet, and 72% did not understand their obligations under the policy.

It seems entirely clear that this is not ready to roll, and that the impact on landlords and potential local authorities who might have to pick up homelessness cases as well as on tenants—with the very obvious point about the potential for discrimination—make a much fuller evaluation essential. I therefore strongly support the Motion put forward by my noble friend.

I would just add that, if this proposal come from the European Union, there would have been uproar. At the idea that this amount of bureaucracy and red tape was being put on landlords, with the potential for discrimination, everybody in this House would have fallen on it, torn it apart and, hopefully, voted against it.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 9:15 pm, 24th February 2016

My Lords, my interest as a small landlord is on the register. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I have let properties in a small way for a very long time, probably 40 to 50 years, starting with the basement of a house that I lived in. It is unfortunate that this clause comes in an immigration rather than a housing Bill, where so many of these issues are addressed and more is known about the real problems involved.

A pilot evaluation as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is at least desirable and even essential. Like others on this side of the House, I shall not vote in favour of her Motion, but I want to make an input on the subject. Checks on tenants all sound very desirable, and I have always had checks on them, but I cannot tell noble Lords how difficult it is becoming. Nowadays people either want to hide their identity for some illegal reason of their own or they simply do not even know how to produce identification. I have had a very charming and completely reliable girl take a small flat that I had. The previous tenants were expecting a child and needed more space, so they moved out. She wanted to come, but to try to get any suitable identification and proof that she was actually going to the university here that she claimed to be going to took over six weeks. As the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said, six weeks’ loss of rent to a landlord is quite a lot of money and certainly pushes the rent up for the next person who comes along, because you have to compensate for the money that you have lost in that period. In the end, we had to get a letter from her embassy to prove that she really was legitimate.

I was quite fussy about this because we had at least six people presenting themselves to take that flat who were definitely not what they said they were and wanted it for illegal purposes. Other flats in the block have been let out on an Airbnb basis; the council used to be able at least to find out who was living in those flats. They were bussing in 10 people at a time for two weeks’ holiday. They came into a one-bedroom flat, which was not allowed to be sublet. In the end, the whole thing was sorted out in terms of those units, but the same people who had successfully run that—the court demanded that they give up that illegal subletting—were putting up front men to ask for my flat so they could do the same thing there. It is so very hard to detect these cases, and it takes a lot of time and consideration.

When residential landlords are given the responsibility to check immigration things, it will be a bit like the National Health Service. We are meant to check on who is entitled to national health treatment, but people do not have the time or ability to access the information and a tremendous lot of health tourists come here for that reason.

What are reasonable requirements? I can understand that it would be easy if we had national identity cards, although I have never really been in favour of them. Then, at least we would know whether someone was genuinely in the country, and that would cover one little thing, but that is not enough. For us to have passed the Deregulation Act, taking away the controls on people subletting or letting on short tenancies, at a time when New York and Paris were introducing such regulations was insane, but there is nothing we can do about it.

The point that this does not address at all is illegal landlords. Legal landlords are doing their best to abide by whatever the law is, but I know so many people who have a room in a house that is divided into six or eight rooms. You are meant to have a certificate if it is a house in multiple occupation and to know who is in it. Instead, these people are let rooms with no rent book or security, with nothing at all. In one case, someone has asked me to help. She is very concerned because someone has a key to her door and comes in and steals her things, yet she is told by the landlord that if she goes to the police, he will put her out instantly. That sounds unbelievable, but it is absolutely true. There will be at least six people living in a house where the landlord does not declare that he has anyone. I do not think he pays any income tax or anything else. The more we put greater and greater demands on legitimate landlords which are almost impossible to satisfy, the more we are going to push the enterprise underground. That is a very undesirable situation, and we do not want to see it.

I understand that the question of discrimination might be why this provision has been put into the Immigration Bill, but I am not involved in that Bill and I had not realised that it had housing implications. I am very impressed by the work being done by a lot of people, such as the noble Lord, Lord Best, who is a real expert on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said that there should be no further action before there has been a full consultation and evaluation, and the Liberal Members said the same thing.

It must be remembered that this is making it a criminal offence for landlords. It is not turning it into some light-hearted thing that will be dismissed. They say that you will be able to ring a helpline but, from my national health experience, I do not have a huge amount of faith in helplines. Every day in the paper there is a story about something that has gone wrong with a helpline. Why do we think a helpline would be any better manned or more efficient in this field than they are in other fields? Human nature is able to cope with only a certain amount, and most people staffing helplines have a list of questions and answers beside them. If you do not fit into that pattern, they might not be able to give you the appropriate answer because the question is not one that they have been given an answer to.

The Government need to make the situation much clearer to landlords. I think it is true that people have not have any notice about this—I certainly have not. The same applied over carbon monoxide monitors; the measure was introduced with two weeks’ notice and no one was told anything about it. It is no good asking people to follow a law without them having any idea that it is coming in. It is only through the National Landlords Association that I have come about this knowledge at all.

This is an important issue. I feel that it could go disastrously wrong, and it would be far better for it to be fully evaluated and dealt with perhaps in the housing Bill rather than in the Immigration Bill.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in this debate. I begin by putting on record that my wife is a small-scale private sector landlord; I want to draw that to the attention of the House.

In considering these matters, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that we had a substantial debate on this issue on 20 January on Amendment 148 to Clause 13, which was from, as I recall, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. That went on for some time and raised many of the issues that have been raised today. If, because of the hour, I touch on a number of the issues lightly as we go through, I think it will be helpful for those who have genuine concerns about this to look again at the Official Report for the second day of Committee, and I am sure we will have the opportunity to revisit this on day one of Report on 9 March. For those reasons, I trust that the House will bear with me if I try to deal with some of the headline issues that perhaps have not been raised before.

First, I shall deal with the context of this measure. The context to legislation is very important. This is a commencement order, Commencement Order No. 6, for a piece of legislation that was passed by the coalition Government. The changes about which many concerns have been raised relate to the Immigration Bill currently going through your Lordships’ House but this relates firmly to the Act that was passed by the coalition Government.

It has to be said that the notion that landlords should have a duty to check that those to whom they rent properties are legally entitled to be here was first introduced by the then Labour Government in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which introduced a duty on social landlords to undertake checks to ensure that they were letting properties only to people who had a legal right to be here. This measure simply extends that further across.

We are of course talking here about human beings and I think that we all recognise the humanity of this, but we are also talking about real problems that are faced in this country. We talk constantly about pressures in the housing market, and it could be that part of that pressure is because a number of properties in the private rented sector are currently rented out to people who have no legal right to be here, which means that they are here illegally and therefore breaking our laws. The question is: should we as a Government, and indeed as a Parliament, be endorsing and basically offering protection to people with no legal right to be here, who are breaking our laws and abusing our hospitality and should leave, to the potential disadvantage of people who are legally here and entitled to rent a property? That is the first point.

The second point, to which a number of issues relate, is on the timing, and I recognise that that is a key point. The original announcement about the pilot exercise was in September 2014—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Best—and the original pilot or phased introduction was undertaken some time ago. I readily accept that it was undertaken as a concession to arguments made, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Best, in the various stages during the passage of the Immigration Act through your Lordships’ House. The pilot was set up in the West Midlands, which is the second largest conurbation in the UK and quite an ethnically diverse area. It was therefore deemed to be an appropriate setting in which to test out how this would work. On top of that, an independent panel was set up, which of course the noble Lord, Lord Best, co-chairs. The panel includes representatives from the British Property Federation, the Residential Landlords Association, which has been referred to, the National Approved Letting Scheme, the UK Association of Letting Agents, the Association of Residential Letting Agents, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Housing Federation. It also includes

Shelter, Crisis, Universities UK and, crucially, on the element of discrimination, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Why, then, was the decision taken to do this—a point which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rightly sought clarification on? The answer is that it was in the Conservative Party manifesto. We stood at the election and our manifesto said that we would clamp down on people who are here illegally to stop them being able to work, rent properties, open bank accounts and obtain driving licences. We said that we would do all those things. Therefore, when we were elected by the people to do that, we announced that we would get on and do it. This is not happening across the country, to take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We introduced it in the West Midlands and that pilot has now been running for over a year, during which we have been gathering the evidence of how it has been operating and evaluating it. This order will enable it to be rolled out to the rest of England but of course then further orders will be required for it to be rolled out into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On the timing, I took on board the points that were made by my noble friends Lady Gardiner, Lord Hailsham and Lord Cathcart, among others, who were concerned about the time it takes to get documents. That is why a lot of this information can be checked online: there is an online checking service, which is not a premium service, as we said the previous time we discussed this, but a local-rate number that people can ring up. At the moment, that government service delivers 100% as regards its target time, turning work around in 48 hours. I know that of course when people obtain references at present when a landlord lets out a property, surely they want to establish who they are letting out the property to. They require some identification and may require proof of employment, a reference from the employer or from previous landlords. All of that takes time. This part simply checks that the person who is there is legally entitled to be in the UK, and I would have thought that that would be a standard part of due diligence that should be happening in most cases. Therefore that element is there.

I recognise that we all have a deep concern about discrimination in the housing market. That was one of the reasons why the mystery shopping exercise happened there. That sounds like a trivial thing, but it is an established procedure used by all retailers around the country. We used an external firm to undertake the exercise and half the visits were undertaken by BME couples, who were seeking accommodation. What they identified was, sadly, that there is still discrimination— that we know—but that the discrimination levels experienced in the West Midlands control area or pilot area were similar to the other areas being used as a comparator. That is why we have to make sure that landlords are more aware of the duties that they already have under the Equalities Act 2010 and the racial discrimination Act of 1965 to ensure that there is no discrimination.

The discrimination point is a key area. We are determined to go much further on this and I know that the independent panel is keen to do that as well.

That is why we are updating the code of practice to ensure that landlords know their duties and obligations to ensure that properties are fairly let to people, irrespective of their background. We have done that with great assistance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which of course is part of that panel.

A number of noble Lords referred to asylum seekers and refugees. The legislation exempts refuges, hostels and student accommodation, and, where there are vulnerable people who may have lost documents and what have you, there are special procedures to ensure that they are protected.

The target of this legislation is two groups of people. The first group is those who have no right to be here and should leave, and therefore should not be occupying premises that should be made available to people who have a legal right to be here. The second group, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, was right to point out, are the unscrupulous landlords who charge extortionate rents for appalling accommodation—I have seen reports on that type of accommodation that people are actually living in. These are the people we have in our sights. All a landlord needs to do is undertake a basic check of the documents and keep a copy of them. They then have a statutory defence that they have complied with the law.

A number of very specific points were raised. Perhaps, if the House will allow me, I can undertake to cover those in communications. We are having ongoing conversations about this: we have had several meetings at the Home Office and other meetings. We are going to come back to this. There are some areas where I think we can get some movement to make sure that there is greater reassurance. However, this particular element relates to legislation from 2014 for which there has been a pilot and a phased introduction. We are confident that the safeguards are in place, but it will continue to be kept under review. Therefore, I commend the commencement order to the House and urge the noble Baroness to reconsider pressing her fatal Motion.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am conscious of time. I hope that in my opening speech I managed to anticipate many of the points that have been made in the debate, and I shall not seek to repeat them. What I had not anticipated was hearing the real-life experiences of three landlords on the Benches opposite. I thought it was very telling when they shared with the House that they became aware of the requirements through their membership of the House. Their talk of real experiences reminded us of the concern of landlords about voids and losing rents, and the inevitable and unintended discrimination that may occur because of the situation.

It is right that I respond briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Best. No one could doubt the work that he has put in to this or that the panel that he co-chairs takes the issue very seriously. However, the Home Office evaluation, which took place some time ago, demonstrated many of the problems. The panel continues to work but we do not know publicly what its conclusions are and what its continuing work is. Perhaps I may summarise the noble Lord’s view as being that the burden on landlords was exaggerated. The Residential Landlords Association has made its views quite clear and it supports the Motion.

The pilot was introduced as a result of negotiations between the partners in the coalition Government in 2014. That negotiation was the basis of the inclusion of the provisions in the Bill at that time. Several noble Lords have quoted the assurances that were given about the evaluation. We were told that there would be a proper one based on a big enough trial. The then Minister said:

“Any decisions on a wider rollout will be taken in the light of the evaluation after the general election during the next Parliament”.—[Hansard, 3/4/14; col. 1090.]

However, the decision was taken immediately after the election before the pilot had even been completed.

I agree that immigration legislation should not be used to crack down on bad landlords. We should use other means for that. Nor do I think that we should lay problems in the housing market at the door of illegal immigrants. Hardly a cigarette paper can be put between the points that I made and those made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who I think used even stronger language than I did, but I think that his argument is, “We shouldn’t behave badly. We should accept that this is policy but ask the Government to think about it all again”. However, if we cannot ask the Government to think about it on the basis of a pilot on which there has been a report, and if we cannot amend the order, how do we do our job? I think that our job is to show our view of the position so far, which is, as I said, that the requirements should not have been rolled out beyond an inadequate pilot. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Division on Baroness Hamwee's Motion

Contents 54; Not-Contents 139.

Motion disagreed.

Division number 2 Immigration Act 2014 (Commencement No. 6) Order 2016 — Motion to Annul

Aye: 52 Members of the House of Lords

No: 137 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers