Natricia Duncan, Voice Writer
THE EQUALITIES and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has vowed to 'stamp out' racial discrimination in the private renting sector after an undercover investigation by the BBC found that the issue was prevalent.
The EHRC said it would be partnering with the property ombudsman and other agencies to address the problem following a report by a BBC's Inside Out undercover operation, which exposed 10 estate agents who told a BBC journalist posing as a landlord that they would not let to African Caribbean people at his request.
A lettings manager of A to Z Property Services in Dollis Hill, northwest London, one of the agencies at the centre of the investigation, told the undercover reporter: "We cannot be shown discriminating against a community. But obviously we've got our ways around that.
"Ninety nine per cent of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans or any troublesome people."
An EHRC spokesperson said: "It is against the law and totally wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their ethnicity.
"We have received BBC Inside Out's findings and will be talking to the property ombudsman and the trade bodies for estate agents to see what can be done urgently to stamp out these unacceptable practices."
discrimination against black
The BBC's investigation was prompted by a Runnymede Trust survey which discovered that more than a quarter of black and Pakistani respondents felt discriminated against when trying to rent private accommodation.
The survey found that 29 per cent of black Caribbean, 28 per cent of black African and 27 per cent of Pakistani respondents believed they had suffered this type of discrimination.
Only one per cent of white respondents reported the same feeling. During the investigation, the BBC staff also went undercover as potential tenants, and uncovered the ploy by agents to keep black people out of certain properties by refusing to follow up on their enquiries or telling them that properties were already gone when they were actually still available.
A black researcher, posing as a renter, was told a property had been taken, but a white researcher, also posing as a renter, was offered a viewing of the same property. The revelations of the report are said to mirror the sentiments of the "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish" signs that were part of the early African Caribbean migrants' experience in Britain in the 1950s and '60s. Clarence Thompson MBE, founder of Presentation Housing Association, which was established in 1968 to address the housing crisis in the black community, said the BBC's report was proof that racism was "alive and kicking".
He said his housing organisation, which was later acquired by Notting Hill Housing Association, enshrined the principles of equality and provided homes for 15,000 families of mixed diversity.
Thompson blamed the government for the lack of respect for the hard fought equality laws. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for businesses to refuse to provide a service based on ethnicity. He said: "It does not surprise me that the government has failed to take any action or make a statement which condemns the practice investigated by the BBC into the blocking of African-heritage tenants by landlords."
shame them into action
Thompson added: "We can't expect them to do anything; we've got to shame them into action. Racism is illegal and their 'silence' on this matter, their lack of action indicate that they are themselves racist."
Home Secretary Theresa May's recent bill to address illegal migration has been described as a gift to "racist landlords." Former Voice journalist Maurice Mcleod, in a Guardian opinion piece, said: "Last week, Theresa May announced that, as part of her immigration bill, private landlords will be required under the threat of a £3,000 fine to ensure that "illegal immigrants" are not given access to their properties.
"In her drive to make Britain 'a hostile environment for illegal immigrants', the home secretary is likely to hand bigoted private landlords, and the compliant agents they employ, another valuable tool."
The Labour party has since condemned the actions of the lettings agents in the BBC's report. Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC he "was shocked" and "deeply upset".
Heidi Alexander, Labour MP for Lewisham East, told The Voice: "The discrimination that was evident in last week's documentary about some London property agents is a stark reminder of just how far we still have to go before we can claim to have equality for everyone in our country.
"What we heard and saw some people doing and saying was just plain wrong. Not only do employers need to get a grip of this situation urgently, potentially taking disciplinary action against staff, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission needs to conduct an urgent and thorough review of practices in this sector. "I'm normally someone who is very proud to call myself a Londoner, but when I heard the reports last week it made me feel quite ashamed."