The UK government announced earlier this year that they would be introducing a series of laws to tackle illegal immigration, and that this would likely include stringent checks that force landlords to evict residents that don’t have the relevant legal right to remain.
This has obviously resulted in additional things that landlords will need to consider when signing new tenants. When the Right to Rent scheme was tested in the Midlands during the first half of this year, the results proved successful in helping authorities to place additional restrictions on illegal immigration.
However, critics have been incredibly outspoken in the media about their views that the government are shirking their public responsibilities onto property owners. Whether or not you consider it right or fair to place the onus of immigration status checks onto landlords, the fact remains that it is now their responsibility to ensure their tenants are residing in the UK legally.
So, whilst it’s all well and good that the scheme is proving helpful to the government, with an estimated 100 illegal immigrants detected since the first stages of the trial, what do Right to Rent checks mean for landlords?
Under the new scheme, which is set to be fully rolled out in February 2016, landlords are now required to check the immigration status of all tenants prior to consenting to them living in their property, or face a series of possible penalties – some of which even include imprisonment.
For most landlords, the immigration checks will be simple and straightforward. Simply checking the prospective tenants’ passport, residence permit and/or immigration documents is usually enough to determine their legal residency status, although it will be the landlord’s responsibility to make sure that the documents are original and that they believe the documents legitimately belong to the person applying. Landlords will also need to ensure that they have determined if they will be using the property as their only or main residence, and keep a copy of the documents that were provided.
In cases where the individual in question is in an ongoing process or application with the Home Office and hasn’t yet had their documents returned, landlords can perform the check using an online form which has been specifically set up for this purpose.
When the landlord has entered the relevant query, a response will be received within two working days which will confirm or reject their ability to rent their property to the individual. Landlords will need to keep a record of the date that the check was performed.
Some of the measures that have been put in place as punishment for failing to carry out these checks have been argued to be overly harsh, and increase in severity for serial or serious offenders. Initially, if you have let a private property without conducting the relevant immigration check, you will be fined £1,000.
Upon each offence thereafter, the fine increases to £3,000 per incident. The fine will arrive in the form of a civil penalty notice, which will have information about how to pay and the deadlines for doing so. Prior to receiving a fine, however, those suspected of failing to comply will receive a ‘referral notice’ informing them that they are being investigated and, if found guilty, that they may receive a fine.
There are, however, more severe consequences for repeat offenders and serious offenders which could potentially include jail time and other sanctions under the Proceeds of Crime Act. There are, of course, routes to appeal decisions made, although with the measures being newly introduced it remains to be seen how effective appeals in this area of law will prove to be in reality.
Responding to critics of the Right to Rent scheme, Communities Secretary Greg Clark has reiterated that it has been contrived and introduced with a view to protecting migrants coming into the country, and to penalise landlords who are seeking to exploit those with illegal status by charging extortionate rates and keeping them in overcrowded, sub-par conditions as they have nowhere else to go.
The UK Association of Letting Agents hit out at Mr Clark’s claims, though, stating that “it is not appropriate to make housing professionals responsible for policing the country’s borders.” The association, along with a number of human rights organisations also expressed fears that the checks would cause undue discrimination against those who are legally residing in the country with valid residency status and relevant documentation.
The following are signs that are indicative that the property is the tenant’s main/only residence:
- They live there most of the time
- They keep a reasonable amount of their belongings in the property
- If they have family members, such as children or a partner, they live with them in the property
- They are registered with a doctor, dentist or other similar service close to or using the address
- They are registered to vote in the property or local area using a previous UK address
When checking if the documents provided are original copies and belong to the individual concerned, check for the following signs:
- The documents appear to be originals and include any relevant official markings
- The documents don’t appear to have been changed or tampered with
- The dates on the documents mean the tenant’s right to stay hasn’t expired
- Any photos within the documentation resemble the tenant
- Key pieces of information such as dates of birth, gender etc, are consistent across all documents
- Where the name differs between documents, there is supporting evidence as to a legitimate reason (marriage, divorce certificates etc)