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UK Landlords will have to check the immigration status of their tenants
- Officials say 'Right to Rent' checks are already undertaken by landlords
- Fine of £3,000 for failure to perform checks
- Critics warn change will lead to landlords to discriminate against those they suspect to be in the UK illegally
New rules set to kick in this year will require landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants.
Officials have insisted the changes will add no more red tape and pose no threat to upstanding landlords.
However, landlord groups are split and some argue the change could lead to more bureaucracy, fines running to thousands of pounds and even drive vulnerable tenants into the hands of unscrupulous operators.
Here we explain what the changes will really mean….
The Home Office’s ‘right to rent’ scheme, which is to be phased in across the UK later this year, is being introduced in an effort to help fight illegal immigration.
It will require landlords to check whether would-be tenants are entitled to live in the UK before they hand over the keys to a residential property.
The key aims of the right to rent scheme were set out in guidance published by the Home Office.
It states: 'This is to deter illegal immigration and prevent illegal immigrants from accessing our finite housing stock and displacing lawful residents. It will also help ensure that those people who do not have the right to be in the UK are prevented from establishing a settled life here.'
In practice, landlords will be obliged to ask all prospective tenants for proof that they are British citizens, EEA or Swiss nationals, or that they have been granted leave to remain in the UK.
If a person applying to be a tenant cannot provide evidence of their right to remain in the UK or there is a suspicion that the relevant documents are forged, the landlord must report the matter to the Home Office as soon as possible.
A fine of up to £3,000 could be imposed if a landlords lets to someone not eligible to live in the UK without making the proper checks.
Right to Rent is currently being trialled in Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
A Home Office spokesman said: 'Our experience in the West Midlands has shown that many landlords were already carrying out the type of checks which are now required.
'An expert panel, which includes the Equality and Human Rights Commission as well as representatives of landlords and letting agents will oversee an evaluation of the first phase of the scheme before it is rolled out nationally.'
Richard Blanco of the National Landlords Association doesn’t believe the new rules will cause landlords any serious problems. He said: 'Landlords should do tenancy checks in any event, so the requirements of right to rent shouldn’t be onerous. In many ways, it’s a sensible initiative. I can appreciate why some landlords are anxious, but it’s a straightforward process.'
A charter for discrimination?
Critics believe many landlords could act unlawfully by breaching the Equality Act.
They fear some landlords will play it safe by dismissing applications from anyone who doesn’t immediately seem to be a UK citizen.
The threat of £3,000 fine could tempt some landlords to steer clear of letting to people they think more likely to be in the country illegally, but this is not allowed.
Home Office guidance makes it clear that the right to rent scheme is not an excuse for racial discrimination.
Any landlord or letting agent who refuses to let a home to someone on the basis of suspicion alone, perhaps because of their colour, name or accent, would be breaking the law - although it will be almost impossible to prove that the landlord is discriminating against certain groups
Other say the rules will serve to push vulnerable tenants into the arms of disreputable landlords.
They include Chris Town, vice chair of the Residential Landlords Association. He said: 'This is a toothless tiger. All it will mean is an applicant who is rejected because they don’t have the right documents will disappear, potentially into the black market and end up in dangerous properties.
'This will hinder legitimate landlords who would be able to provide safe homes.'
Other landlords, worried about facing a fine if they accept what turns out to be a fake document, may choose to only accept a passport as evidence.
Aside from people from overseas who don’t have a passport, this approach would place any of the nine million English and Welsh citizens who don’t have a passport, perhaps because they cannot afford to pay £72.50 for one, at a disadvantage.
There is also an argument that rents could rise if landlords, fearful of a hefty fine, employ agencies to undertake the checks and pass the cost on to tenants.
How can landlords stick to the rules?
The Home Office states that there is nothing for landlords to worry about as their obligation amounts to carrying out ‘simple documentary checks’.
These consist of seeing and making a copy of a recognised document such as a passport, visa, residence permit or a Biometric Residence Permit.
BRPs are being introduced for use by all non-EEA immigrants who are looking to extend their visa or settle in the UK, and will include the fingerprints and a passport-type photo of the card holder.
If any document presented as proof of a right to remain in the UK has an expiry date, the landlord will need to conduct a follow-up check at the appropriate time.
Likewise, the Home Office recommends landlords undertake follow-up checks every 12 months to ensure the tenant is still legally entitled to remain in the country, and so avoid any risk of a fine.
If a tenant fails the follow-up check, the landlord does not have to evict them, but should report the matter to the authorities as soon as possible.
Landlords who have any suspicions about the legitimacy of a document should make copies and send them to the Home Office along with a record of who presented them and when.
Despite these stringent requirements, the Right to Rent checks do not cover existing tenants who were aged under 18 when they moved in. No initial or follow-up checks are required for tenants who were under 18 when they moved in.
This will guide them through the process, listing which documents to ask for and what to look out for. There is also a helpline for landlords wanting more advice, which can be reached by dialling 0300 0699799.