Dr William Shankley, a research associate at the Centre of Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE), examines the impacts of the Immigration Act 2016 on black and minority ethnic (BME) citizens within the housing market and asks if it is a measure to further the government’s hostile environment.
- There is a long history of BME households facing discrimination and racism within the housing market.
- The Immigration Act 2016 endorses racist practices against BME citizens in the private rental sector of the housing market.
- Setting up a regulatory body to review the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016 across different services may help overcome further exacerbating homelessness caused by landlord’s practices.
In 2016, the incumbent Government implemented the Immigration Act 2016 to assist in making Britain a more hostile environment. The policy seeks to persuade migrants who live in Britain unlawfully to return to their country of origin and make it harder for them to access institutions and services. The Act uses a collection of provisions to restrict their access to the housing market, labour market and services from the National Health Service. Furthermore, it places the decision of who can access these services in the hands of gatekeepers within these institutions such as teachers and private landlords. The policy provides further evidence of the state bringing its borders from the physical boundaries of the British Isles into our institutions.
The tragic fire in the Grenfell Tower in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea highlights the need to scrutinise the experiences of ethnic minorities in the housing market in Britain. This is because a large proportion of the people who died were from an ethnic minority, migrant and/or working class background. However, it seems that the introduction of the Immigration Act 2016 explains some of the precariousness BME citizens face in the housing market. Current evidence in housing research shows the Immigration Act 2016 not only restricts migrants’ access to services (an important concern!) but also excludes the rights and access of some BME citizens, particularly in the private rental sector of the housing market.
Ethnic minorities and the housing landscape in Britain
There is a long history of BME households facing discrimination and racism within the housing market. The pervasiveness of racism has historically steered, and continues to shape, the housing geographies of migrants and BME households. But also, racism drives BME households into living in poor housing conditions and into a state of precariousness. However, there are vast differences across BME groups and this relates to variations in their migration history, socio-demographic and socio-economic profiles, purchasing power as well as the housing policy that was enforced at the time of their arrival.
Given this, there are several reasons why the Immigration Act 2016 should be considered a racist policy, particularly in the private rental sector. This is because of changes to the housing landscape in Britain. Firstly, more broadly, Britain’s population continues to grow, with the fertility rate of BME groups regularly exceeding the levels of white groups. Secondly, the majority of BME households continue to move away from owner-occupied and social rented housing and into private rented housing. An acceleration of house prices and a contraction of available housing in specific tenures of the housing market continue to make it increasingly hard for young people in Britain to buy houses or secure public housing. The effects of these changes are particularly noticeable across BME households, whose profile is typically younger, and who show relatively low purchasing power compared to white groups. This restricts them in gaining a footing on the housing ladder. Thirdly, housing policies such as the Right to Buy (introduced by the Thatcher government) permit households in public housing tenure the opportunity to buy their houses. However, the policy drastically reduced the social rental housing stock, particularly because the policy was not accompanied by a parallel programme of house building and investment in the social rental sector to make up the shortfall.
Together these patterns have steered many BME households into the private rental market. The dominance of the private rental sector and therefore the impact of the Immigration Act 2016 on BME citizens in the housing market is expected to grow. This is because after Brexit the British state will lose vital European Investment Bank funding – a vital EU contribution to the maintenance and continued building of social housing. Therefore, without the government matching this contribution and house buying being unaffordable for many, more people will become dependent on the private rental sector.
Immigration Act 2016 and the private rental sector
The Immigration Act 2016 is a reproach of the Immigration Act 2014. The Act allows the government to limit the number of skilled workers with job offers and tightens up the student visa system. In the private rental sector of the housing market, the Immigration Act 2016, I argue, facilitates racist practices (inadvertent or not) against anyone who does not look British. The Act makes it a criminal offence for landlords in the private rental sector to rent to tenants they suspect live in Britain unlawfully. This poses a considerable threat to BME households with landlords regularly being unwilling to check the immigration status of potential tenants. This is through fear of prosecution but also that the potential tenant might be using forged documents to rent the room. Therefore, the behaviour and decision-making of some landlords shows that the Immigration Act 2016 implicitly endorses racism through rental practices.
The 2018 Windrush Generation scandal provides an extreme example of these racist practices. This was where some British citizens and residents with indefinite leave to remain faced exclusionary and discriminatory practices by landlords because of the incompetence of the Home Office in issuing official documentation for long-term leave to remain. Some cases showed citizens were denied rental agreements and had to depend on their broader family for support, while others ended up homeless. In extreme cases, the Home Office rejected their cases and the citizens were deported to the Caribbean. The framework of the Immigration Act 2016 endorsed these practices, and poses a threat to some citizens as well as migrants in Britain.
It seems the Immigration Act 2016 endorses racist practices against BME citizens in the private rental sector of the housing market. I, therefore, make three recommendations.
Firstly, I suggest a regulatory body is set up to review the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016 across different services. This regulation, in the private rental sector, would subsequently monitor landlord’s practices and ensure cases where a landlord is unsure of the immigration status of prospective tenants is reviewed before any prosecution is leveed against them. It also takes away the onus on the landlord to check the immigration status of prospective tenants themselves and thus, the motive to commit racist practices against BME citizens.
Secondly, I recommend high-quality data specifically on housing is gathered to review the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016. This would allow further transparency and a better review of the landlords’ practices.
Thirdly, I recommend an amendment to Part 2 of the Access to Services section of the Immigration Act 2016 that focuses on the provisions for residential tenancies. The amendment would prioritise housing BME citizen, particularly those who are vulnerable, instead of focusing exclusively on their immigration status. This is a reactionary measure to overcome further exacerbating homelessness caused by landlord’s practices.