Has Right to Rent led to discrimination?

28/01/2016 By Mark Long


From February 2016, all private landlords in England must check that new tenants have the right to live in the UK before renting out their property.  Under the new rules, landlords who fail to check a potential tenant’s ‘right to rent’ will face penalties of up to £3,000 per tenant.  Right to Rent was introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 and has been received controversially in some quarters.

Our research with Home Office Science tested the compliance of landlords and letting agents to the new legislation, specifically identifying any discrimination based purely on ethnicity.

Our solution was a systematic mystery shopping based assessment of adherence in both the test locations (Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton) and carefully selected comparator locations (Coventry, Stoke on Trent).  Mystery shoppers were recruited from an existing panel managed by ESA Retail (part of the BVA BDRC Group) to represent White British, and Black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals posing as prospective tenants.  The shoppers were demographically matched in all aspects other than their ethnicity.  In partnership with the Home Office project team, a series of tenant enquiry scenarios were developed to standardise the enquiry experience other than ethnicity.

204 assessments were conducted with letting agents (national chains, local chains and independents) and 128 with private landlords.  The assessments were a blend of face-to-face, telephone and email enquiries.  A ‘paired’ research approach was used in all mystery shopping assessments in the test and  comparator locations, which allowed us to be confident that they could identify any potentially discriminatory behaviour attributable purely to the apparent ethnicity/nationality of the mystery shopper.

Despite shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham’s concerns the project did not find evidence of systematic discrimination against Black and minority ethnic (BME) would-be renters, in either the phase one Right to Rent locations or comparator research areas.  The experience of mystery shoppers representing this group was variable in absolute and relative terms as they passed along the rental enquiry stages in both the comparator and test locations, but this was also true of the White British mystery shoppers.  Importantly, none of the BME mystery shoppers felt any racial prejudice as a potential renter in the 166 individual encounters that took place during the research project.

BVA BDRC’s findings make up a significant part of the Home Office report published in October 2015, Evaluation of the Right to Rent scheme Full evaluation report of Phase One.

If you have any questions about the research project please get in touch. Find out more about our Mystery Shopper research.