Home Office spends more than £78,000 to defend 'discriminatory' hostile environment policy
The Home Office has spent more than £78,000 in public money on legal costs to appeal against a High Court ruling that one of its hostile environment policies violates human rights laws, new figures show.
A judge ruled in March that the government’s Right to Rent scheme, which requires private landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, was causing landlords to ”discriminate against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity”.
Ministers chose to appeal the decision – and figures released in response to a freedom of information request show that up to 27 March 2019, the department had spent £78,449 on the case in legal costs.
Campaigners and lawyers said the government was using public funds to defend a “clearly discriminatory scheme”, and accused home secretary Sajid Javid of failing to learn lessons from the Windrush scandal.
The Right to Rent scheme, which came into force in 2016 and constitutes a key branch of the government’s hostile environment, has previously come under fire from cross-party MPs, landlords and immigration lawyers who warned it could be putting people at risk of homelessness and exploitation.
The Independent recently highlighted the case of a British man who, along with his family, was made homeless after being told they could not rent a property in the UK because his wife was not eligible to rent under the policy – despite the fact that she has the right to live in Britain.
Responding to the figures, Chai Patel, legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which launched the legal challenge against the policy, said: “The High Court confirmed what we have been telling the government for years: Right to Rent checks cause racist discrimination in the housing market.
“Instead of wasting yet more taxpayer money pursuing an appeal arguing that racism can be justified in the context of immigration control, Sajid Javid should act now to scrap the scheme. Our government should be stamping out racism, not encouraging it.”
Immigration lawyer Shoaib Khan, who obtained the figures through freedom of information law, said: “The government was warned time and again that Right to Rent would breach human rights and lead to racial discrimination, and now the High Court has confirmed this.
“The High Court judgment is damning for the government, and rightly so. It is therefore even more disappointing that the government is continuing to pursue this discriminatory policy and spending yet more money on challenging the judgment.”
Mr Khan said the tens of thousands of pounds spent on legal costs were “just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the financial costs of this discriminatory scheme”.
He added: “No doubt the costs of devising the scheme, implementing it, drafting guidance, providing training and then enforcing it would have greatly exceeded this. It is unacceptable that, in these times of austerity, home secretary Theresa May and her successors have spent these public funds on a clearly discriminatory scheme.
“If there is to be any difference between Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ and Sajid Javid’s ‘compliant environment’, the first step must be to put an immediate stop to schemes such as this. Right to Rent is a divisive, discriminatory scheme which leads to racism.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Right to Rent scheme plays an important role in ensuring only those with a legal right to be in the UK are able to access benefits and services.
“We are disappointed by the High Court judgment and are appealing on every ground. We only defend cases where we believe that it is in the public interest to do so.”