We need to demand an end to the “hostile environment” approach to immigration policy

by: Open Labour | on: 16.06.17 | in: General | tags: , , ,

Many young Londoners like me know the drill – every year or two, we must pack up our bags and search for a new home. This month, it was my turn again. After finding a place and agreeing to go ahead with the letting agent, I received a very long email detailing a new check I have not been familiar with so far: The right to rent.

Right to rent was introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 and came into effect in England in 2016. It requires landlords and letting agents to check that new tenants have the right to be in the UK before renting out property to them. If a landlord fails to carry out these checks, they will be fined; if they knowingly rent to someone who does not have the right to live in the UK, they face an unlimited fine and or may be sentenced to prison for up to five years.


If a tenant fails to produce the required documents to proof his right to rent in the UK, they will be denied a house or room. This is a policy designed to actively force some of the most vulnerable people onto the streets. If picked up by an immigration officer or the police when sleeping rough, a non-British citizen faces deportation. If this person does not have identity documents, it is not possible for the Home Office to deport them. They will most likely end up in indefinite detention. The United Kingdom is the only country in the European Union which still detains migrants without a time limit. Detainees face years in prison-style conditions without any certainty over whether they will be released or deported. This situation persists despite a recommendation of a cross-party committee and commitments in both the Liberal Democrat and Labour manifesto to a time limit.

Part of the last Conservative Government’s “hostile environment” strategy, policies such as the right to rent aim to make circumstances as difficult, unwelcoming and humiliating as possible for non-British people in the UK. Theresa May, as the previous Home Secretary, is directly responsible for this approach to immigration policy. Under her premiership, the “hostile environment” is set to continue: In 2016, schools have been required to obtain nationality and birthplace data on their pupils to help the Home Office with deportations of families without papers. At the start of the year, it has emerged that the Government will require hospitals to check whether patients are eligible for free care on the NHS from April 2017 onwards. Campaigners fear that this deters vulnerable migrants, particularly pregnant woman, from seeking care for fear of deportation. Some doctors have in the past threatened to boycott the scheme.

Neither teachers, landlords, letting agents nor NHS staff should be forced to do the work of an immigration officer. Immigration policy shouldn’t interfere with every other aspect of a person’s life. More than ever, we need to ensure that people who have chosen to make the UK their home feel welcome in our society. A “hostile environment” breeds division, not community cohesion.

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