Under the new Immigration Act 2014 which comes into force in December landlords have to ask prospective tenants to produce evidence of their permission to be in the UK before granting them a tenancy. The Home Office has produced lists of acceptable documents. If documents from the lists cannot be provided, the landlord must not let the property to them and if the landlord lets to someone who does not have lawful residence in the UK there will be a fine of up to £3,000.
Landlords will now be turned into a form of border police. The rules embody a requirement to check not only the documents of those on the Tenancy Agreement but the documents of all of those who are expected to be living in the household at the start of the tenancy. Where any of the occupants have temporary visas the landlords will have to conduct repeat checks.
The Government states that the intention of the scheme is to ensure that those without permission to be in the UK are “unable to establish a settled life in the UK’’ and to create a “hostile environment’’ for them. The new rules are to be rolled out with the pilot areas to include Birmingham and Wolverhampton from January 2015.
The Landlord’s responsibility to make the checks and face the fines can be transferred to a Letting Agent, but that must be done specifically in writing – suggesting that Agents will have to re-visit their standard contracts Terms and Conditions.
The immediate problems are obvious. According to the last National Census 17 per cent of the adult population (9.5 million people) do not hold any passport. A birth certificate on its own is not acceptable evidence. Women fleeing domestic violence will often leave without their possessions and could struggle to retrieve them from an abusive partner. Many homeless people will have lost or had stolen their identity documents whilst sleeping rough or moving around or living in insecure accommodation.
These measures are likely to have unintended consequences, affecting British citizens and other lawful residents Some people tend to confuse issues of immigration status and ethnicity. Black and ethnic minority tenants may find it more difficult to find tenancies to rent and the legislation may well lead to breaches of Human Rights and Unjustified Discrimination.
A further danger is that landlords will avoid taking tenants with restricted immigration status for fear of repercussions. This could happen to prospective tenants who have short visas or to those who are nearing the end of a long term visa but are eligible to extend. Tenants will likely experience great difficulty renting with little time remaining on a visa. The Home Office has set up a ‘Landlords Checking Service’. If a tenant’s immigration paperwork expires during the course of the tenancy then the landlord is not required to evict, but must report the tenant/occupier to the Home Office in order to avoid the penalty.