Posted: 08 September 2013

Forcing landlords to check immigration status could make children and families homeless

New Home Office proposals – likely to be part of the upcoming immigration bill – would impose new requirements on landlords and estate agents to check the immigration documents of their tenants. They could also be subject to a fine if they house people without the right documents. This policy would be very detrimental to many vulnerable children and families that we work with. It will also likely fail to achieve its stated objectives of encouraging people to leave the country and reducing abuses of housing law - Read our response to the government’s consultation.

Targeting vulnerable migrant children and families

The proposals assume that undocumented migrant families will be able to resolve their immigration status in order to secure accommodation. Our experience tells us that this just will not happen. Many vulnerable children and families have real fears about returning and do not believe they have had their cases fairly considered.

This is often due to inadequate legal advice and representation, poor decision-making by immigration officials as well as a ‘culture of disbelief’ within the Home Office. Despite the destitution and fear of deportation which they often face, these families are unable or unlikely to return to their country of origin.

There is therefore no evidence that making it more difficult for families to find somewhere to live would make them more likely to leave the UK. Families will instead be forced to find a place to live through hidden and insecure means often with unscrupulous landlords seeking to exploit vulnerable people.

The impact on children

The government has not taken into account the impact on children’s rights. Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), of which the UK is a signatory, makes clear that children must be protected from any form of discrimination and that their rights should be promoted irrespective of their race, nationality or immigration status. The proposed policy will substantially affect undocumented children because a refusal of accommodation to parents or carers will likely render a whole family homeless.

More insecure and crowded accommodation could force families to move more frequently. This breaks support networks in local communities and evidence suggests could cause children to move repeatedly from one school to another or to endure long tiring commutes.

Increased homelessness and pressure on local public services

Overcrowding, poverty and exploitative housing conditions are already significant issues for migrant families. The government’s proposals are likely to make this much worse by stopping legitimate landlords from housing vulnerable children and families. Pressure will increase on forms of housing that do not fall under the new proposals, including on local authorities, emergency homeless hostels and refuges.

Discrimination and proof of status

The proposed scheme is very likely to cause discrimination. Landlords who are unclear about an individual’s status or if they do not get a satisfactory answer from the Home Office are likely to simply refuse accommodation. This will disproportionately affect those children and families with decisions pending, those with limited leave to remain or those with particularly complex immigration status.

Checking immigration documents will be very complex for landlords. Our experience shows us that immigration rules change frequently and that the immigration status of children and families can take different forms over an extended period of time, whilst documents are often with the Home Office at crucial times during the course of their application.

These proposals will create distrust and division between communities, leading to higher levels of homelessness and exploitation. This will further isolate already marginalised and vulnerable children and families. We will be continuing to lobby to change these proposals as the immigration bill progresses through parliament.

 

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By Lucy Gregg - Policy team

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