Last year we reported on the new rules that the government was introducing in order to “create a hostile environment for illegal migrants” – the so called ‘Right to Rent.” Essentially, this new set of requirements was designed to ensure that anyone with access to the lettings market had the right to be in it. Most illegal immigrants (apart from the oligarchs and billionaires of course) have little option but to rent, as buying is completely out of the question, and so the government’s thinking has been that removing access to a roof over their heads would be a significant deterrent. Whether or not you agree with this, as predicted, the practical implementation of the new rules – which started as of 1 February – has proven a bit of a shambles, with news reports last week indicating that seven in 10 landlords don’t understand what they’re meant to be doing.
What is right to rent?
It’s a new scheme that requires all landlords to check that a tenant or lodger can legally rent their residential property in England. There are some exclusions, such as social housing and care homes. Checks have to be carried out for anyone over 18 even if they are not named on the tenancy agreement, there is no tenancy agreement or the tenancy agreement is verbal.
The checking process
Landlords are now required to do as follows:
- Check which adults will live at the property as their only or main home.
- See the original documents that allow the tenant to live in the UK.
- Check that the documents are genuine and belong to the tenant, with the tenant present.
- Make, and keep, copies of the documents and record the date the check was made.
So what’s the problem?
The above does seem to be fairly straightforward but in the UK landlords have become used to being quite hands off with tenants, other than when it comes to verifying the ability to pay the rent. Research provided by the Residential Landlords Association indicates that 90% of 1,500 landlords it surveyed said they had not received any information from the government about the new rules, and 72% did not understand their obligations. The complicating factor is that there are fines if landlords do not get this right – £1,000 the first time, and £3,000 subsequently. The fear of a financial penalty, combined with the lack of guidance from the government, has resulted in some landlords trying to avoid anyone who even looks like they could be an illegal immigrant.
The new rules require landlords to check tenant documents, making sure they are originals, that they are the tenant’s own and that the right to stay has not expired. Although proof documentation isn’t limited to passports, 44% of landlords in the survey indicated they would only accept documents that were familiar to them. This is fine for anyone with a bog standard passport but causes significant issues for those who may have a less recognisable form of documentation to secure their stay, or even for anyone born in the UK who simply doesn’t have the right documents as a result of homelessness or living in temporary accommodation. Add to that the fact that landlords also face the threat of being accused of discriminatory behaviour if they turn someone away who ‘looks like an illegal immigrant’ and it’s hard not to conclude that this policy has not been particularly well thought through…