Landlords: the new border agents in the UK’s securitisation process By Sharon Leahy (University of St Andrews)

The UK Immigration Act 2014 is the State’s newest incarnation of its securitisation process, fuelled by the sentiments of a Conservative government and an increasingly insecure neoliberal society. Although aspects of the law, specifically related to citizenship, detention and deportation have been widely publicised and debated, more obscure, but not less detrimental, aspects have gone underreported. This blog entry questions the new rules this law brings to the private rented sector, highlighting those clauses outlined in sections 22-28 and discussing how the deputation of those who rent out property into actors within the border patrol process represents a further phase in the securitisation of the state by non-state actors. This law deems that new tenants will have their immigration status checked by their landlord prior to securing accommodation. This will leave immigrants in a further precarious state, whereby they may be unable to find accommodation or may be at the mercy of others, including criminal landlords, to find a place to stay in what can be an easily manipulated system. It directly relates to those who are undocumented in UK society, immigrant groups who are at their most vulnerable. Section 22 (1) of the Immigration Act 2014 states that “A landlord must not authorise an adult to occupy premises under a residential tenancy agreement if the adult is disqualified as a result of their immigration status”. This means that all housing associations, rental agents and private landlords, including those taking in lodgers, are obliged to check the details of those named on tenancy agreements and those who sublet the property. This replicates in many ways the laws that are already in place for employers. The use of landlords in the securitisation of the State provides further evidence to support Balibar’s (2002) claim that the “border is everywhere”, the border is “wherever selective controls are found” (Balibar 2002: 84-85). If the renter is found to be without the correct immigration status the landlord can be liable for a civil penalty and fined up to £3000. On top of this, if the tenant cannot produce a passport or biometric resident permit the information provided by the tenant is to be entered by the landlord into a database ‘landlord checking service’, where it will be tested. This database acts as an additional recording mechanism for the State, serving as a further biometric measurement in the logging and registration of the individual by the State. From December 1st this part of the Act will be trialled in the South of England, in the areas of Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton. The Home Office claims that this is a further effort to tackle illegal actions of landlords with respect to poor housing provision and unsafe living conditions, but how this will be achieved with this law is not elaborated on. The Immigration factsheet published by the Home Office states that this act is ‘focused on caring for the vulnerable…making it easy for homeless and vulnerable people to prove their entitlement’. This type of justification provides a weak and fear-mongering argument, attempting to align this act with care for others, and by extension, suggesting that prior to now the homeless and vulnerable are at a disadvantage due to migrants in the rental market. Indeed its factsheet later explicitly states that this act will benefit ‘lawful residents who face competition from illegal migrants in the housing market’. Vaughan-Williams deliberates Derrida’s essay ‘The Parergon’ to discuss the problems of outlining distinct areas of inside/outside with respect to the border. He (Vaughan-Williams 2009: 156) stresses that ‘the parergonal nature of the concept of the border means that it has never somehow only been located at the outer edge of the state. Rather, it must be seen as being fundamentally ‘thick’, constantly weaving inside and outside the inside/outside dichotomy it frames’. These landlords are now non-state border agents, performing the border through these practices of surveillance. This has wide-ranging impacts, not least the transference of responsibility for the identification of undocumented migrants to lay people, but also the deterrence of homeowners taking in lodgers for fear that they will be susceptible to this fine system, rental income which may have been utilised to tackle mortgage debt and bedroom taxes. It will serve to further demonise all migrants, even those who have legal rights to be in the UK, providing another facet in the ever-expanding State securitisation process.

 

Dr Sharon Leahy, University of St Andrews (@sharon_leahy)

 

References

Balibar, E. (2002). Politics and the Other Scene, Verso.

Vaughan-Williams, N. (2009). Border politics: the limits of sovereign power, Edinburgh University Press.

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