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LONDON, Feb 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A scheme requiring British landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants discriminates against foreign nationals and Britons from ethnic minorities, a charity said on Monday.
The Right to Rent scheme, part of wider measures by the British government to tackle illegal immigration, threatens landlords and letting agents with a maximum £3,000 fine or up to five years in prison if they fail to check the passport or immigration documents of tenants.
A survey by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a charity campaigning for migrant and refugee rights, found 51 percent of landlords said they would be less likely to rent to a foreign national under the scheme.
In a test conducted by JCWI of Britons without passports, an applicant from an ethnic minority was turned down by 58 percent of landlords - 14 percent more often than a white British applicant in the same situation.
Saira Grant, chief executive of JCWI, said the scheme was clearly discriminatory and there was no evidence that it reduced "irregular immigration".
"Creating a so-called 'hostile environment' that targets vulnerable men, women and children is bad enough, implementing a scheme that traps and discriminates against British citizens is absurd," Grant said in a statement.
A Home Office spokesperson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it had been monitoring the scheme and had found no evidence of discrimination.
The Right to Rent scheme, introduced in February 2016, aims to prevent illegal immigrants from establishing a settled life in the UK, which could slow the process of deportation, according to the Home Office website.
The scheme, which operates across England, is set to be extended to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland this year.
Stuart McDonald, immigration spokesperson for Scotland's ruling Scottish National Party, called for an immediate halt to the "toxic" scheme which he said turned landlords into de facto immigration officers.
McDonald said in a statement that Britain's immigration minister had failed to provide any evidence of the scheme's effectiveness.
The Home Office spokesperson confirmed it was continuing in negotiations with the Scottish Parliament and other authorities to roll out the scheme.
The report said asylum seekers, stateless persons, and victims of modern day slavery were the worst effected by the scheme.
In a test, landlords gave no response to 85 percent of inquiries from such applicants who require landlords to do an online check with the Home Office to confirm that they have been granted permission to rent. (Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Emma Batha.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)