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Landlords to act as Immigration Officers

Landlords will be expected to take on the role of Immigration Officers if prospective tenants prove to have no right to remain in the country.

The pilot scheme, which ran in the Midlands in 2014 as part of the 2014 Immigration Act, is to be extended nationally. It is believed that this was the intention of the Conservative part of the co-coalition Government, but the Social Democrats blocked it. Well, a majority Conservative Government can proceed with what they want. There will be a new Immigration bill and all landlords will be expected to carry out ‘right to rent’ checks before they offer tenancies to asylum seekers and migrants.

The new legislation has been announced this week, outlining what is expected. Landlords will need to check documentation of prospective tenants, before they offer a tenancy. Copies must be taken of all documents as originals must not be kept; copies should be retained for at least 1 year after the tenancy expires or the tenant vacates. Any documents with personal or sensitive details must be stored securely.

Documents that a landlord should check could be passports, national identity cards, residence card or certificate of registration or naturalization. The documents should be verified every 12 months or when the person’s permission to be in the UK has expired. This should ensure that there is a continuing right to rent whilst he remains in the tenancy.

There seems to be some good news: this will apply to new tenancies from the date of the scheme implementation. Current tenants are not affected provided there is no break in the tenancy. The second piece of good news is that landlords may find there will be some assistance that allows them to evict a failed asylum seeker without the need for a court order. Details have not yet been given of the process for evicting, but this help would be appreciated by landlords.  

Landlords that have repeated offences can be fined up to £5,000, or serve up to 5 years in prison, sanctions under the Proceeds of Crime Act, but also may be added to a blacklist of landlords, which means local authorities can ban them from renting properties, so penalties are harsh. This is seen as a necessary step to protect the vulnerable from unscrupulous landlords. As no-one has an exact figure for private landlords and many of the worst, with the poorest standard properties, manage to remain ‘under the radar’, some would doubt that this would be as efficacious as the Government would believe.

Landlords have for years been told not to discriminate against prospective tenants on the basis of race, religion or ethnic origin. Now a lack of confidence in their ability to distinguish between documents may mean they decide not to take anyone they have concerns about. Although there is a way to request a check on status using an on-line form, the response could take 2 days. What of the landlords who do not have IT skills? Why should a landlord take the trouble to make an on-line check if the tenant has been unable to provide clear documentation? Easier to take the next applicant where these checks are unnecessary.

Something does need to be done to tackle the problem of people who have no right to rent. But this is yet more pressure on stressed and pressured landlords. Threats of penalties are unlikely to increase the likelihood of landlords taking a chance on accepting these most vulnerable people.