Controversial ‘right to rent’ scheme to be rolled out across the Country
Immigration check rules are still being piloted in the Midlands where a landlord must make checks on a prospective tenant’s immigration status, if they fail to do so then action can be taken against them for renting a property to an illegal immigrant. Under the scheme if a landlord breaches the rules the fine is £1000 per illegal occupier adult rising to £3000 for a second offence.
The Immigration Act 2014 places new restrictions on illegal immigrants accessing private rented accommodation. By law, landlords will be required to carry out document checks to identify if a potential tenant has the right to reside in the UK, before they grant a tenancy. Landlords will also be required to keep appropriate records during the tenancy and for at least twelve months after the tenancy has ended.
Agents can carry out checks on behalf of a landlord, but are advised to confirm the exact nature of their responsibilities in writing. Where an agent has accepted responsibility for compliance with the new rules, the agent will be the liable party in place of the landlord.
The Home Office is evaluating the results in the West Midlands before rolling it out across the Country later this year in September. The pilot in the Midlands has resulted in one fine being issued; the landlord is appealing.
The requirement to carry out document checks currently only applies to:
landlord’s letting property located in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton
all adults aged 18 and over living at the property
new tenancy agreements starting on or after 1st December 2014
In most cases, landlords will simply need to check the tenant’s passport or biometric residents permit prior to granting a tenancy. Landlords will need to check original documents and keep a copy and appropriate records during the tenancy and for up to twelve months after the tenancy has ended. Someone who is not a relevant national but who has leave to enter or remain in the UK has a right to rent accommodation. Leave to enter or remain means that the person has permission from the Home Office to be in the UK.
In a limited number of cases, where tenants do not have their documents due to an ongoing Home Office application, landlords can request a check using an online form. The checking service will then provide a yes or no answer within 2 working days. Document checks will be required in relation to new tenancies starting on or after 1st December 2014 in these areas. Existing tenancies will not be impacted as long as there is no break in the tenancy.
There is a list of exemptions where the rules do not apply to tenancies, including Housing Association tenants are exempt if they have been nominated by a local authority as they are already subject to checks, but tenants who take in lodgers will be required to carry out checks.
Research from the pilot scheme in the Midlands show that tenants are being charged extra for administration fees by landlords in the affected areas. Research shows that landlords are reluctant to offer viewings to those needing more time to provide sufficient paperwork. The research shows the predicament landlords are facing; on one hand they want to appear as a fair landlord but on the other hand they are nervous about renting to an illegal immigrant. Critics fear the legislation, which is expected to be rolled out in the rest of the Country in September, places an “unfair burden” on landlords who may lack the knowledge or skills to check if their tenants are allowed to live in Britain. Are landlords now to play the role of an Immigration Officer?
Landlords are advised to;
1) Check if a property is affected by using the Home Office online tool.
2) Read the Home Office Code of Practice, which explains in detail what agents, landlords and tenants need to do.
3) Review your agency terms, conditions and contracts, to make sure the landlord’s, tenant’s and agent’s responsibilities are clear.
4) Review your procedures to ensure sufficient time is allowed to carry out checks and appropriate records are kept and actions are taken.
5) Review the wording of your tenancy agreements.
6) Confirm responsibilities in writing, if carrying out checks on behalf of landlord clients.
7) Call the Home Office telephone advice line on 0300 069 9799 for further advice and information, if required. More information about how to carry out the checks is available at www.Gov.uk.
You can obtain further information on the effects of the new changes by contacting Aisha Akhtar Solicitor in the Landlord & Tenant Team on 020 8799 1884