People from ethnic minorities face arbitrary discrimination when they look for a room to rent, experts have said, after a Guardian investigation found that inquiries from a person with a Muslim name about flatshare ads received significantly fewer positive responses.
In a snapshot survey of the private flatshare market carried out as part of the Bias in Britain series, expressions of interest were sent from “Muhammad” and “David” to almost 1,000 online advertisements for rooms across the UK.
The Guardian found that for every 10 positive replies David received, Muhammad received only eight.
Muhammad was doubly disadvantaged compared with David as he was more likely not to receive a response (44% of the time compared with 36%), and when he did receive a response it was more likely to be negative (25% of the time compared with 18%).
Kevin Gulliver, the director of the Human City Institute, a charity and thinktank focusing on exclusion, social injustice and inequality, said: “This is a timely study. BAME communities are more reliant on the private rented sector – 24%, compared with 14% of white people. Having equal access to the rented sector is very important. Society is generally less racist than it was in the 1950s but that doesn’t mean more subtle versions of racism don’t exist. People sort of justify it to themselves, assuming someone from that community might not fit into the block. This sort of study shows it is prevalent, and Brexit, Trump etc could have given permission for previously hidden racism to emerge.”
Harun Khan, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Merely having a name such as Muhammad should play no role in the provision of services open to the public. It would be shocking were the structural racism not already the lived experience of many Muslims, with Islamophobia already normalised in many sections of our society. This provides yet more evidence that Islamophobia is far broader than mere anti-Muslim hatred, and it is imperative that the government develops a strategy to tackle the structural racism facing Muslims, over and above its newly updated hate crime action plan.”
David Smith, Residential Landlords Association (RLA) policy director, said: “We are very disturbed by the findings of this exercise. No landlord should arbitrarily discriminate against any prospective tenant on any basis. There are laws that apply to rightly protect people from discrimination and we would not defend any landlord who wilfully contravenes these. Sadly, such prejudices are being compounded by the government’s right to rent policy [which requires landlords to carry out immigration checks] and its wider hostile environment approach to immigration.”
Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Prejudice is still a very real problem in Britain and these findings demonstrate that it is having a significant impact on how real people behave and interact with others. Choosing a housemate is a personal decision and there are lots of reasons which play into it. As a barometer of today’s society we should sit up and take notice if people are choosing who they live with based on where people come from, what they might look like and what they might believe. We know that elements of public dialogue foster prejudice and discrimination against Muslim people. We need to recognise the extent of that and build opportunities for sensible discussions to tackle prejudice to prevent an increased divide in society.”