A housing tribunal has ruled that a 45-year-old Filipino woman and her two sons, aged eight and 12, can be evicted from their home in the village of Croftamie, Scotland on the grounds that they have a less “durable connection with the area” than the landlord’s stepdaughter, who is due to move into the property in their stead.
Marjorie has lived in the UK for 16 years and works as a care home nurse, though is currently signed off sick due to stress and anxiety. The tribunal’s decision to grant her landlord an eviction notice comes after Marjorie received anonymous death threats from a caller she suspects was her landlord’s associate.
Local police dropped their investigation into the calls, though a spokesperson for Police Scotland said “enquiries were carried out”. An officer later suggested to Marjorie that her landlord – whom she does not wish to name, for fear of retaliation – was joking when they talked in an email about shooting their tenants.
Marjorie’s landlord first gave notice of their intention to evict her in October. The landlord gave her until January to vacate the property, where she and her children – whom she has raised in Scotland – have been living for a year (under Scottish coronavirus legislation, landlords hoping to evict their tenants in order to move in a relative can give three rather than the usual six months’ notice).
On 3 January, the landlord’s stated move-out date, Marjorie received an anonymous phone call threatening to shoot and stab her and throw acid over her children if the family did not leave the house within five days. She recognised the voice as her landlord’s associate’s.
Marjorie gave a recording of the call to local police, who were present when she received a further threatening call. The following morning, on 4 January, Marjorie’s landlord and an associate turned up unannounced at Marjorie’s home, supposedly to carry out repairs.
Following an anxious wait of several weeks, during which Marjorie followed up with the police multiple times, officers concluded that since the calls were made using a pay-as-you-go SIM, they were untraceable, and closed their investigation.
Refusing to be intimidated, Marjorie stayed in her home, forcing her landlord to seek an eviction notice from a tribunal.
On 4 February, Marjorie received an email from her landlord criticising her submission to the tribunal. “I am not going to threaten you,” they said. “I have not shot a tenant in the head for at least a week.” Marjorie shared the email with local police, who suggested the landlord was joking.
On 24 March, a first-tier housing tribunal heard Marjorie’s case.
The tribunal heard that while the landlord’s stepdaughter intends to buy a property in the area, and so presumably has some capital, Marjorie would struggle to find a secure tenancy in the area that she could afford, and so would be forced to relocate. The court also heard that the stress of the looming eviction had seriously impacted Marjorie’s mental health.
Nevertheless, the tribunal granted the landlord’s request for an eviction notice.
In its decision, the tribunal stated that since Marjorie’s children have attended the local school for less time than those of the landlord’s stepdaughter, the Filipino-Scottish family has a “less durable connection with the area” and so can be evicted. Marjorie intends to appeal the ruling.
The tribunal also stated that “[w]hilst it was suggested [by Marjorie] that a move from their school would be significant and likely to result in changes to schooling education and social relationships, there was no evidence to form such a view having regard the short tenure and the incidental potential effects of the pandemic on education and social contact for all.”
News of Marjorie’s eviction comes soon after the publication of the Sewell Report, commissioned by the government to investigate racism in the UK. The report concluded there is little institutional racism in Britain, which it declared “a model for other white-majority countries”. It found that where “disparities” between ethnic groups did exist, they were often not due to racism but to other factors, such as “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion”.
Yet there is no doubt in Marjorie’s mind about the root cause of her treatment. “I feel that I have been disadvantaged by the tribunal because I do not speak with a Scottish accent,” she said. “It is not fair that a family who can afford to buy a home and therefore rent locally are deemed to have a ‘more durable connection’ to the area than me and my two boys.”
A spokesperson for Living Rent, the Scottish renters’ union of which Marjorie is a member, put it more bluntly. “We consider the tribunal ruling racist,” they told Novara Media. “This is a far too familiar story of housing that BAME people … have to endure.”
“The family belong in Croftamie and they have been failed by the tribunal and the police,” they added. “Is this how we treat our nurses during a pandemic?”
The systemic effects of racism that coronavirus has exposed have been felt particularly acutely by Filipino health workers, who comprise 2% of NHS England’s workforce yet a quarter of its coronavirus deaths. Of course, such effects extend beyond the pandemic, and beyond health inequalities.
The words “Grenfell Tower” are enough to conjure in most people’s minds the disastrous consequences of racism in housing – though there is ample evidence to substantiate it, too.
A 2016 report found that despite forty years’ worth of campaigning by Black and ethnic minority communities, as well as the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation, racism pervades Britain’s housing system.
The report found that Black and ethnic minority households are likelier than their white counterparts to suffer housing stressors such as overcrowding and fuel poverty, and are overconcentrated in the most deprived neighbourhoods and worst quality housing.
Meanwhile, non-white communities are overrepresented among Britain’s homeless: government data indicates that in the past twenty years, BAME homelessness has doubled from 18% to 36%.
Immigrants are often at the sharp end of racial discrimination in housing. Last April, an appeal court overturned the high court’s ruling that the government’s Right to Rent scheme, an arm of the hostile environment that obliges private landlords to check tenants’ immigration status, was racially discriminatory; in fact, the court said, the scheme was “justified” as a “proportionate means of achieving its legitimate objective”.
Francesca Humi is the advocacy and campaigns officer for Kanlungan, a consortium of grassroots groups that support Filipino people in the UK. “As a carer, Marjorie is an essential worker, working at the frontline to keep people safe,” she said in a statement to Novara Media.
“Her treatment is unfortunately symbolic of how Filipino migrants and other migrant workers are treated under the hostile environment policy. Migrants have become second-class citizens in access to housing, welfare, and healthcare – even if they work towards contributing to these systems.”
“We stand in solidarity with Marjorie and her children. No family should lose their housing due to the individual whims of private landlords.”
Though an eviction ban is in place in Scotland, it applies only to areas in levels three and four (ie, those with the most stringent coronavirus restrictions). Since Marjorie lives in a level four area, her landlord was able to apply for an eviction order from a tribunal, but cannot evict Marjorie until Croftamie enters levels one or two.
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that she expects the whole of Scotland to enter level two on 17 May, making this the date from which Marjorie is at risk of eviction.
If Marjorie is evicted, her housing situation looks grim. Roger Whyte is a member of Living Rent. “It is common knowledge that no temporary or permanent social accommodation would be suitable for them locally,” he said in a statement. “Eviction means displacing this family.” A spokesperson for the union told Novara Media that he anticipates Marjorie’s family will be moved 25 miles away to Stirling, an hour-and-a-half journey from her children’s school.
Marjorie’s is part of the “tidal wave of evictions” of which Living Rent and other housing campaigners have been warning for months, as the eviction bans that have protected renters in all four nations for much of the pandemic begin to lift in line with coronavirus restrictions.
The Scottish government is aware that its private rented sector is dysfunctional. In its Housing to 2040 plan, details of which were published on 15 March, the administration announced its intention to tackle “unfair evictions”.
Yet any changes the Scottish government may make will come too late for Marjorie. In the meantime, Living Rent is demanding that her landlord give her the time she needs to find suitable alternative accommodation; that Stirling Council rehouse her in an area close to her sons’ school; and that Balfron Police conduct a full investigation into the death threats she received in January.
With coronavirus legislation continuing to chill protest rights, Living Rent is asking its members and allies to share photographs in support of Marjorie with placards saying ‘We belong here’. A number of antiracist groups have offered their solidarity, including Show Racism the Red Card, Tripod, No Evictions Network, The Unity Centre and East South Asian Scotland; Scottish human rights lawyer and Edinburgh University rector Deborah Kayembe called the landlord and police officers’ attitudes “nothing but shameful and disgusting”. The union is also planning an outdoors performance to protest the family’s treatment.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Judiciary said: “Tribunals act independently and impartially basing judicial decisions on the law and on the facts arising from the evidence before them. If either party disagrees with a decision they have two routes to seek a reconsideration. They may seek a review from the Tribunal in the interests of justice, and they may seek permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal based on a point of law. Decisions are published on the Housing and Property Chamber Tribunal website along with the reasons for the decisions.”