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Right to Work / Right to Rent : where are we heading?

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

The Right to work and Right to rent checks are indeed remarkable pieces British engineering. By this, employers and landlords (lay members of the community) have the delegated, but unpaid, responsibility of acting as the eyes and ears of the SSHD on pain of hefty fines if they are found to be hiring or accommodating persons who have no right to work or rent in the UK.

Contravention of Section 21 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 could lead to two years imprisonment on indictment for the employer. This applies where an employer "knowingly employs" a person subject to immigration control where a) he has not been granted permission to enter or stay in the United Kingdom or b) such permission is

(i) invalid, (ii) has ceased to have effect (whether due to curtailment, revocation, cancellation, passage of time or otherwise), or (iii) is subject to a condition preventing him from accepting the employment.

Introduced as a part of a series of measures and policies culminating in the “hostile environment” of Theresa May in 2012, these laws are designed to make life so unbearable for the individual that as an “illegal” migrant they “constructively dismiss” themselves from the country without the British tax payer incurring the costs of deportation or removal.

But at what real cost?

Migrants who cannot prove their entitlements (not necessarily those who do not in fact have them) are thus denied a job, a roof over their heads, a bank account, a divers’ licence (in essence, no means of survival whatsoever) so that employer turns against employee, landlord against their tenant, neighbour against neighbour and friend against friend to avoid civil penalties or more severe penal consequences… Even the best of friends may fear being accused of harbouring an illegal migrant. All this leaves in its wake a fractured society...

The system is rigid since an employer can accept only certain specified documents on a list or conduct an online check which says only yes or no as to the right to work, than provide the many permutations of one’s immigration status. The HO system does not thus always paint an accurate picture of a person’s right to live and work in the country. When one thinks just how many HO decisions might be overturned on appeal or on administrative review, there is a significant proportion of cases where the HO might well have “got it wrong”.

There is no compensation or redress for the person who finds him or herself denied a job or a home on this basis. The employer or landlord would have done their legal duty in carrying out the checks and provided themselves with a "statutory excuse" from being liable to civil penalties.

If the individual becomes jobless however they also become homeless and then may be subject to further suffering as they are forced into becoming victims of modern slavery or exploitation in the dark economy instead.

The Home office has published various transparency data today (30.11.21) and these display a significant rise in right to work checks and right to rent checks.

Have employers/landlords become more adept at finding out the immigration status of their employees/tenants in the Brexit/Pandemic context?

Or is it the fear of harsh civil penalties and the consequential losses (including loss of reputation) by being named and shamed in a public list that is driving compliance?

Here are the relevant transparency figures:

A society which lives in fear of itself could become a fractured, or even a broken, one.

What then is the real cost of this strategy?

Author: Nilmini Roelens

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