Earlier this year, the government introduced a new measure that transferred to landlords the responsibility if ensuring that tenants have the right to live in the UK. At the time, it seemed rather like the government passing the buck to landlords already tangled up in red tape.
Now that, for good or bad, we’ve voted to leave the EU, could this create even more difficulties for landlords?
The New Scheme
The measures, part of the Immigration Act 2014, were introduced first in December 2014 in certain trial areas of the West Midlands, but it went nationwide on 1st February this year.
The Act seeks to reform immigration control, and part of this is to introduce checks on tenants, who must now prove they have the right to live in the country before they’re allowed to take up a tenancy. Instead of this being undertaken by the government’s immigration services, however, the onus has been put onto landlords.
Minister James Brokenshire claimed at the time that “Right to rent checks are quick and simple, and many responsible landlords already do them as a matter of routine.” However, this involves a number of steps, including examining the original documents and establishing the prospective tenant’s legal position.
This may be quick and simple for corporate landlords or letting agencies, but the responsibility falls on all levels of landlord, even someone subletting a room to a lodger. Even small-time landlords are expected to correctly interpret immigration law, with the threat of penalties up to £3,000 per tenant if they get it wrong.
Rent Checks in the Post-Referendum World
This was already potentially tricky, but the decision to leave the EU will inevitably create more uncertainty. This could be even more true if, as seems quite possible, some kind of compromise is reached over movement.
The upshot is that tenants from mainland Europe, instead of merely having to show an EU passport, may require immigration documents the landlord will have to interpret correctly. And, if an EU tenant is staying on, the landlord will have to ensure any change in status is fully covered.
The situation isn’t going to change immediately, and no-one knows exactly how it will end up, but landlords are likely to be feeling an extra layer of uncertainty. In the end, the government will need to offer more support to help them make the right decisions.
In the meantime, although this isn’t directly related to debt, it’s a subject that will concern many of my clients. Watch this space — I’ll update you on any changes.