End Racism in Housing

Published as part of our first #CantPayWontPay Day of Action.  Share this blog post and the tile essay on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

As a union, we want a city where everyone can find and live in decent homes. But with Black and brown people experiencing higher rates of homelessness and overcrowding, and the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies that routinely discriminate against migrants and people of colour – it’s clear that racism continues to pervade the housing system in the UK. 

Black and brown communities are being disproportionately impacted by coronavirus. They are more likely to be working on the frontlines and in low paid and insecure work, where they have faced a high risk of losing their jobs or catching the virus. Across the UK renters are being forced to choose between paying rent or buying food and other essentials, and now many of our members and other black and brown people are among those most at risk of being in rent debt and homelessness. 

No borders in housing… but what does this mean?

No Recourse to Public funds (NRPF)

Some migrants have a condition attached to their immigration status which gives them no recourse to public funds (NRPF). This means they are unable to claim benefits such as universal credit and housing benefit.  Over 1 million people – including around 100,000 children –  living in the UK are thought to be subject to “no recourse to public funds” conditions  – under which they can live in the UK but are unable to access benefits. 

While the government has put a temporary ban on evictions, many of our members with NRPF have been made homeless, are facing mounting arrears, or have been threatened with eviction.

Research shows that 6 in 10 renters have faced reductions in their income due to Coronavirus. With renters in London already spending 60% or even 70% of their income on rent, even if they are entitled to receive 80% of income through the governments furlough scheme, they will have little left over for food and other essentials. Many self-employed people, zero-hours contract workers and recently unemployed people have not received government support via the coronavirus retention scheme. With no access to Universal Credit, many of our members and other migrants have been unable to pay their rent, and have been pushed into extreme rent debt. 

The government has not made any attempt to address the crisis many migrant renters are facing. They have announced more funding for rough sleepers, but the needs of people with NRPF have not been addressed. They have even suggested that those left homeless may be offered ‘voluntary repatriation’ – a bullying tactic which bribes people into ‘returning’ to places they often no longer consider home. 

We need policies which protect everyone – not policies which demonise and exclude people during times of crisis. Migrants Rights Network, Project17 and the Public Law Interest Centre along with many other groups have called for immediate action by local authorities to protect the health and wellbeing of all migrants, particularly those with NRPF. Many migrants rights organisations have also called for the government to lift NRPF conditions swiftly and completely. We wholeheartedly support these calls. 

‘Right to rent’

‘Right to rent’ means that landlords must carry out immigration checks on anyone who wants to rent their property. The law was introduced in 2016 by the Conservative government as part of a series of ‘hostile environment’ policies which turned teachers, nurses and in this case landlords, into untrained border guards. These rules don’t account for the fact that many people won’t have access to the right paperwork for a number of reasons. In practice, it means that Black and brown people or people with non-anglicised names are passed over for housing in favour of other applicants, regardless of their immigration status. There have now been two court rulings that have confirmed the government’s ‘right to rent’ legislation causes racial discrimation against migrants and Black and brown people. It currently takes BME people and migrants twice as long to find a home to rent compared to a white British person. We urge the government to follow the recommendation of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and put an end to the ‘right to rent’ scheme.

What can you do?

Last Month, London Renters Union launched Can’t Pay Won’t Pay – a campaign to support, collectivise and empower all those who struggle to pay their rent. 

Racism interplays with all 5 of our campaign demands. A cancellation of rent debt and an end to borders in housing would ensure that all renters are protected, including migrants with NRPF, who are unable to access benefits. Similarly, with rent prices spiralling out of control in London, our demand to introduce rent controls, where no one should have to spend more than a third of their income on rent, would ensure that Black and brown people aren’t priced out of their communities.

Joining the Cant Pay Wont Pay campaign is one way you can help fight back against racism in housing. As a union we support and stand up for each other in our housing struggles. We know that when the eviction ban is lifted we’ll see a wave of evictions, and we want to support as many people as possible to stay in their homes. Through the campaign you can sign up to help resist evictions in your area. 

We have power when we come together!


We’re a members-led, campaigning union and we’re taking action to make sure all Londoners have a decent, affordable and secure home. Join our community today and become part of the movement to transform the housing system.


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