The Right to Rent scheme was introduced as part of the Immigration Act 2014, to help make sure people renting property in the UK have a legal right to be here. It came into force in the West Midlands last December, where Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton were used to test the scheme. The first six months of that ‘pilot’ have been reviewed and the scheme will now be introduced across the whole of England from today, 1st February 2016.
This Right to Rent law means that landlords, or their agents, must carry out identity checks on every tenant before they sign a tenancy agreement. The tenant needs to provide documentation with a photograph on it, e.g. a passport, permanent residence card or immigration status document, that proves they are either UK nationals, or have the right to live and work in the country. You can find a complete list of all the accepted documents on the government GOV.UK website. At Your Move, we’ve been doing this as part of our referencing process for many years, but if you carry out your own checks, you’ve got to make sure you get this proof of residency from February 1st. If you don’t, and it’s discovered that you’re letting to an illegal immigrant, the penalty is up to £3,000 per tenant.
The Home Office review of the West Midlands pilot scheme revealed that both landlords and letting agents didn’t think it had made any difference to the housing market, in terms of rents, turnover or availability of accommodation. Most said that the checks were relatively easy to carry out, although a few did say they’d taken longer than expected - between 20 minutes and an hour. But because most of us are only familiar with a UK passport, it will obviously be more time-consuming in the early days if tenants have other types of documentation – especially if it’s something from the EU and the rest of the world. But as we see more and more of these, it will get easier, but in the meantime you (and we) need to try and spot fake documents too.
There is support available for landlords and agents, with a helpline and an online system (at homeoffice.gov.uk) that can check and confirm whether an individual has a right to be in the UK. There’s also a case-checking service for tenants whose immigration application is still with the Home Office, which aims to come back with a clear yes/no answer within two working days. During the six-month evaluation, all case-checking decisions – 94 ‘yes’ and 15 ‘no’ – were reached within the two-day target.
In terms of illegal activity flagged up by the scheme, a total of 109 people were identified as not having the right to be in the UK. 63 of those were new cases for the Home Office1, i.e. they hadn’t been aware of them previously. On the landlord side, five penalty notices were issued.
So Right to Rent is helping the Department of Immigration clamp down on people who are here illegally and the fines are putting money back into the system, but what are the real benefits?
Well, assuming the authorities continue to make their own checks and follow up on suspicions, it’ll make it very difficult for rogue landlords who’ve been overcrowding properties with illegal immigrants to carry on, and that’s a good thing. And from our and your perspective, once a tenant has handed over official identification, they’re far less likely to disappear owing money and break the terms of their tenancy.
If we don’t currently handle tenant checks for you, we’d be very happy to discuss how we can help with this. Simply contact your local branch or call 0845 450 5507^ (calls cost 2 pence per minute plus your phone company's access charge) and one of our team will be happy to talk through your options. Alternatively, you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org