Right to Rent immigration checks: increasing pressure on the property rental market

The Government introduced the ‘right to rent’ scheme in the Immigration Act 2014, aimed at creating a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal migrants by limiting their access to basic needs such as housing and healthcare.

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By restricting access to housing, it was hoped individuals without valid immigration status would be discouraged from remaining in the country, leading to an overall reduction in net migration to the UK.

Since February 2016, all private landlords in England have been required to check the immigration status of new tenants to ensure they have the right to stay in the UK.

These checks are not straightforward.

The scheme compels the agent or landlord to have sight of a tenant’s passport and visa, check it is valid and genuine, make copies of the relevant documents and maintain records of the visa documentation.

If the tenant has a time-limited visa, the document will have to be checked again before the expiry of that visa or within 12 months, whichever is longer.

The penalty for failing to carry out the checks is significant.

Previously, a landlord or agent was only liable to a fine of up to £3,000 per tenant if they failed to comply with the checks.

However, under new legislation which came into force in December 2016, landlords now face possible criminal prosecution and up to five years in prison if they knowingly rent a property to a tenant without valid status.

This places a significant burden on landlords.

It is likely that most do not have knowledge of the immigration system, yet they are being asked to undertake checks of immigration documents that require skill and expertise.

The Home office has effectively outsourced the policing of the immigration system to the rental property industry, and can criminalise anyone who fails to comply.

It is therefore unsurprising that there is a growing reluctance among landlords to rent properties to anyone who cannot present a British passport.

A survey conducted by the Residential Landlords Association found 43% said they were less likely to rent to a non-British national because of the burden of the checks.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) found that the scheme was leading to discrimination against foreign nationals and other minority groups.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has echoed these concerns, and criticised the measures for placing a barrier on access to housing.

Despite the lack of evidence that the scheme is impacting on net migration, the Government intends to roll it out to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

JCWI have responded by recently announcing that they intend to take legal action against the Government to halt the expansion.

With Brexit less than two years away, the concern is that more people will soon be required to have a visa to remain in the UK. This will only serve to increase the pressure on the property rental industry.

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