Residential landlords have to check the immigration status of prospective tenants under a government pilot scheme that started in the West Midlands on 1 December.
Failure to do so could result in a civil penalty of up to £3,000.
Under the Immigration Act 2014, landlords and lettings agencies are required to establish if new tenants have a right to rent as a legal resident in the United Kingdom. The pilot scheme only applies in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton. But after an evaluation in the spring, landlords can expect the rules to be rolled out to the rest of the country.
The change in the law has already prompted accusations that landlords are being asked to carry out the job of the Home Office and Border Agency in controlling immigration, on top of the increasing red tape including licensing that applies to the private lettings industry.
Landlords will need to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants before granting a new tenancy agreement. The checks apply to everyone aged 18 and over who will live at the premises.
Landlords will also be responsible for checking that someone’s right to occupy the premises does not lapse. To do all this, they will need to take copies of passport or residence permits of all adult tenants.
So who does have a right to rent? The answers to this question and more can be found in the three guides to the requirements of Section 22 of the Immigration Act 2014 that landlords can download from the Home Office website.
According to the Home Office there are two groups of people who have an unlimited right to rent. These are:
- British citizens, European Economic Area and Swiss nationals
- People who have the right of abode in the UK, or who have been granted indefinite leave to remain or have no time limit on their stay in the UK.
It gets more complicated for people who have been granted valid leave to enter or remain in the country for a limited time only and I would advise landlords to read the documents mentioned above in full.
A Home Office spokeswoman told Landlord Today: ‘In most cases landlords will be able to carry out the checks themselves by asking to see the passport or permit and then photocopying (and keeping) it, without having to request a check on a person’s right to be in the UK via the www.gov.uk website.
‘In a limited number of cases, such as where tenants don’t have their documents due to an ongoing Home Office application, landlords can request a check using the “right to rent” tool on the website.’
Beware of racial discrimination
Introduction of the pilot scheme has already prompted campaigners to write a letter to the Daily Telegraph, arguing that landlords are likely only to rent to white tenants with British-sounding names to avoid being caught out.
The government has an answer to that. The second of the three Home Office documents setting out the details of landlords’ obligations explains how they must beware of racial discrimination.
It states: ‘Among other things, it is unlawful to discriminate in letting practices on the basis of race, which includes colour, nationality and national or ethnic origins. A landlord or letting agent who refuses to let to someone – or who only carries out document checks on persons – who they believe are not British citizens, for example, on the basis of their colour, or ethnic or national origins, would be directly discriminating on grounds of race. This would be unlawful. The person who is discriminated against could make a claim to the courts and the landlord or agent could then face financial penalties. They could also experience reputational damage, and could lose business as a consequence.’
A Home Office minister, James Brokenshire, says the new rules are not just directed at stopping illegal immigration. He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The right to rent checks will be quick and simple, but will make it more difficult for immigration offenders to stay in the country when they have no right to be here.
‘They will also act as a new line of attack against unscrupulous landlords who exploit people by renting out overcrowded and unsafe accommodation.’
There is one useful exemption in the law. When lettings are made to a company, for example a City bank arranging accommodation for staff on secondment, the responsibility for carrying out the immigration checks falls to that company and not the landlord.
Landlords concerned about where they stand on this and other residential tenancy issues are welcome to contact SJ Collections to discuss their needs.