Is it reasonable to expect private landlords to act as the Government’s Gatekeeper for immigration?

As part of their clampdown against illegal immigration, private landlords are going to be responsible for checking new tenants have the right to reside in the UK. Landlords who fail to comply with this will face a fine of about £2,000 - £3,000. Bedford based specialist landlord and tenant solicitor Lynne Quarmby takes a closer look. 

This is being rolled out in pilot areas starting in the West Midlands in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton from 1 December 2014. Other areas will follow at dates to be specified in 2015 with the intention that it will cover the whole of the UK by the end of next year. It applies to all tenancies of less than 7 years including Assured Shorthold Tenancies, Sub-lettings and lodging arrangements.

A draft Code of Practice has been issued by the Home Office which sets out the procedure landlords will have to follow, and in particular the documents which are acceptable to prove immigration status or right to reside. The landlord must take and retain a copy of the relevant document for at least a year after the tenancy has ended.

If the prospective tenant cannot produce any of the specified documents but has an ongoing application with the Home Office, the landlord can request verification of a “right to rent” using the Home Office’s Landlord’s Checking Service either online or by telephone. To do so the tenant has to give the landlord a Home Office reference number which should have been given on making his application or appeal.

Follow up checks will have to be made every 12 months and if an occupier’s right to rent has ended the landlord will be required to notify the Home Office although will not be required to evict the tenant as a result.

This is yet another administrative burden for landlords and it remains to be seen how effectively these rules will be followed.

It is easy to envisage that landlords may seek to avoid letting properties to tenants who may not look or sound British, leading to an increased likelihood of discrimination.

It is also likely that the tenants themselves will face increased charges from letting agents who are tasked with carrying out these checks on behalf of landlords.

For more information or advice, please contact Lynne Quarmy in Bedford on 01234 270600.