Discrimination and right to rent immigration checks
Anyone who wants to rent a private rented home in England must pass a 'right to rent check'.
Renters' experiences and research show that right to rent checks can lead to discrimination because of nationality, race or ethnicity.
Discrimination means you are treated unfairly or worse than other people.
The courts decided the checks are legal even though they lead to discrimination.
But landlords and letting agents cannot use right to rent checks to discriminate against you as an individual.
GOV.UK has a code of practice for landlords to help them avoid unlawful discrimination.
What is the right to rent?
You have the 'right to rent' in England if you have the right to live in the UK.
You can pass a right to rent check by showing you have the right to live in the UK.
Landlords and agents must check the immigration status of all adults who will live in a property before a tenancy starts.
The checks can be quicker if you have your passport or immigration documents ready to show landlords and agents as soon as you contact them.
Find out more about right to rent including what you need to show to pass the check.
What counts as discrimination?
Equality law says that landlords must not discriminate because of a 'protected characteristic' when renting or managing private tenancies.
This means you cannot be treated unfairly because of:
pregnancy or maternity
religion or beliefs
race, skin colour, ethnic group, nationality, ethnic or national background
Landlords must not tell agents to treat people unfairly because of these things.
It's against the law for either a landlord or letting agent to do this.
Equality law and right to rent
Right to rent checks must not break equality law.
This means landlords and agents must not treat you differently or unfairly because of:
race, skin colour or ethnic group
your nationality or where you were born
how long you have lived in the UK
Landlords must not make assumptions about you based on any of these things.
How to tell if it's discrimination
These are some common ways that landlords or letting agents might discriminate.
You're told you need a British passport
The landlord or agent might say they only rent to people with British passports.
They might also decide you are not British because of your name, accent, language skills or race without checking.
Example 1: Direct discrimination
Ash has lived in the UK for 10 years.
When Ash asks an agent about a flat advertised online, they're told the landlord only rents to British citizens. The agent does not ask to see Ash's passport.
This is direct discrimination.
The landlord has given unlawful instructions to the agent to only rent to British citizens. The agent has also made assumptions about Ash's nationality.
You're told you have not lived in the UK long enough
You do not have to live in the UK for a long time to rent privately.
You have a right to rent if you have the right to be in the UK, even on a short term visa. For example, international student or work visas.
Example 2: Indirect discrimination
Anna has lived in UK for 4 years and has EU pre-settled status.
She calls an agent about a property she can afford.
The agent asks how long she has lived in the UK and says it is their policy to only rent to tenants who have lived here for at least 5 years.
This is indirect discrimination.
Even though the policy applies to all tenants it is unfair for some people because of their nationality or national background.
The agent changes their behaviour when you meet or talk
Landlords and agents must not decide you cannot rent because they think you are different.
For example, they should not treat you any differently because of things like your name, accent or English language skills.
If the agent changes their behaviour when you make contact or meet because of any of these things it could be direct discrimination.
Example 3: Direct discrimination
Kris phones a letting agent to ask for a viewing.
The agent says they can view the property the next day and starts to take their details.
Kris has an Eastern European last name. The agent's tone changes when they give their full name. The agent says they've made a mistake and the house has already been rented out.
2 days later the advert is still on the website so Kris calls the agent again. They speak to another staff member who says the landlord is still looking for a tenant.
Kris thinks the first agent decided not to let them view the property when they heard their Eastern European name. This would be direct discrimination.
Kris makes notes of both conversations with the letting agents so that they can include them in a formal complaint.
Your landlord wants to check your documents every year
Landlords and agents only need to do another check if you have a 'time limited' right to rent. For example, if you have a student visa.
They might need to check all adults who live in the household if someone new moves in.
Example 4: Direct discrimination
Ali was born in Iran and has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in UK.
He rents a room in a shared house. All the other tenants are British.
The landlord tells Ali he will have to show documents every year for right to rent checks. Nobody else in the house is asked to do this.
This is direct discrimination. The landlord and letting agent are treating Ali unfairly because of his nationality and ethnicity.
Ali's right to rent is not time limited. He only needs to give the agent his documents once, like all the other tenants.
If you think you're facing discrimination
It can be hard to prove discrimination.
Take these 3 steps to report and complain about how you've been treated:
1. Keep records of what happened
Make a note of:
anything you thought was unfair, upset you or made you feel bad
names and job titles of who you spoke to
anyone else who saw or heard what happened
copies of letters, emails or messages between you and the landlord or agent
dates and times of conversations, emails, letters or messages
anything that shows an agent lied when they said a property had been rented out - for example, if the property is still advertised
Keep all your evidence in a folder or in a file on a computer.
2. Report discrimination to a council
In London you can report a rogue landlord or agent on the London Assembly website.
The online report is sent to the right London council to look into.
You do not have to give your name if you do not want to.
Outside of London, you could contact the private rented housing team at your local council to report what happened.
3. Make a formal complaint about discrimination
Use our letter template to complain to a landlord or agent about right to rent discrimination.
If you are not happy with an agent's response or you do not hear from them within 8 weeks, you can complain to a letting agent redress scheme.
Other advice and support
Renters unions can support private renters facing discrimination and racism.
The Equality Advisory & Support Service (EASS) helpline has advice and information about the Equality Act 2010. They can help you work out if the landlord or agent broke equality laws. They do not give legal advice and cannot investigate complaints or take any action against the landlord or agent.
Last updated: 19 September 2023