Secret recording of first a Polish migrant worker, then a British BBC employee, asking a rental agency to view a property
Estate agents are flouting race relations laws by discriminating against migrant workers on behalf of landlords, a BBC investigation found.
Firms in Boston, Lincolnshire, were found using illegal techniques to stop foreign workers viewing properties.
Three agents rejected a Polish worker sent by the BBC, while a BBC employee was allowed to view the properties.
One firm denied it discriminated in this way, while another said it had created a new race-relations policy.
There is no suggestion that the agents themselves are racist, but the behaviour uncovered has been described by human rights lawyers as a "disturbing and shocking" breach of the Race Relations Act of 1976 - which applies to England, Scotland and Wales.
This act outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, religion, colour, religious beliefs, national or ethnic origins.
Any discrimination against potential tenants or any plan to do so agreed with a landlord is also a breach of the National Association of Estate Agents mandatory code of practice for its members.
Initially, migrant workers had complained to the BBC that they were having problems gaining access to rental properties.
One of those was Greg Pacha who arrived in the town nine years ago from Poland.
"Sometimes they tell you behind the office, 'Oh, you are not English, then?' What does that mean, oh? Does that mean I can't get the place? I could tell you 100 different stories but just change the name of the agent," he said.
Secret recording of two rental agents when they came to view a house to assess it for rent
So an undercover BBC correspondent, posing as a landlord, approached most of the rental agencies serving the town to ask if it was possible to rent out a property and ensure those of a non-British nationality were prevented from viewing it.
Many refused to break the law, but more than half of those contacted were prepared to discriminate against potential tenants on the basis of their nationality, on the instruction of the landlord.
One agent, covertly recorded, said: "You can tell as soon as they speak, you can't tell by looking at them; particularly the Eastern Europeans.
"We say to the migrants - well, which ones do you want to look at? Then we ring them back and say when we ring them back, 'Sorry, well, that one's gone'."
Another agent explained: "I think of a reason - 'The landlord does not think you earn enough money - is not happy'.
"I can't put on the paper, 'No Polish, Portuguese, Latvians, Lithuanians.'"
'The old days'
Letting agents are often under pressure to keep their clients - the landlords - happy and may be subject to pressure to break the law, especially in hard economic times, but discrimination lawyers believe they should turn the business away immediately.
Arpita Dutt, a discrimination lawyer at solicitors Russell Jones and Walker, told the BBC: "What they should be saying is, 'I can't do this, I can't act on those instructions. I can get you the best tenant for your property and try to meet those needs. But if I did it in the way you are asking me to do it, then that's against the law'."
I felt horrified, that in this modern day, the provision of housing is being withheld from people who need it because of their nationality or their race
Louise Christian, Lawyer
"It feels like we may as well, in some cases, be going back to the days of 'no blacks, no dogs, no Irish', because that's what is being perpetuated at the moment by some of the agents and the landlords."
Award-winning human rights lawyer Louise Christian found the transcripts disturbing.
"I felt horrified, that in this modern day, the provision of housing is being withheld from people who need it because of their nationality or their race. Housing is an essential service that everyone needs over their head."
All of the agents featured in the undercover filming on this web page were approached about the findings.
B and B Mortgage services did not comment.
AP Sales say: "It is not our practice to deny access to anybody, whatever their nationality, to any property we sell or let. Over 1/3rd of the 188 properties we let are let by us to non British nationals and we act for several non British landlords. We have an excellent relationship with all."
Bruce Mather and co said: "Out of our 235 tenants, 93 are foreign nationals, which is 40% of all the people that we let to. Our firm employs foreign nationals to complete maintenance work. We see many positives in this situation and it has focused us to draw up and implement Company Policy in consideration of the Race Relations Act of 1976."
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