Damning assessment presented by government’s own data and separate investigations will raise fears the scheme could prove unworkable.
A pilot scheme to force landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants has been a failure, the government’s own data suggests.
In the nine months since the rules were implemented across the Black Country, only seven landlords have been penalised, according to documents released to the Economist under the Freedom of Information Act.
A separate investigation has found that the scheme, a key part of the government’s immigration crackdown, may also have encouraged discrimination against non-British prospective tenants.
Since December 2014, landlords in five local authority areas in the West Midlands have been forced to check the immigration status of renters or face a fine of up to £3,000 per tenant.
The scheme is now set to be extended across the country and the penalties stiffened – including potential jail sentences of up to five years – as part of a new immigration bill. Under the proposals landlords would also be given powers to evict people who don’t have leave to remain in the country without first getting a court order.
But documents released to the Economist showed that since the pilot scheme took effect, just seven landlords have been issued notices, and they faced average fines of just £800.
Separate research into the trial by a charity also found that only half of those looking for rental accommodation were asked by a landlord and agent if they had permission to stay in the UK.
A third investigation found the pilot may have encouraged landlords to discriminate against prospective tenants from overseas. A mystery shopping exercise found non-Britons were blocked from renting properties on 11 out of 27 occasions.
Under the Right to Rent scheme, central to the government’s immigration crackdown, landlords will be obliged to see evidence of a person’s right to remain in the UK by examining their passport or biometric residence permit.
The legislation will create a blacklist of persistent rogue landlords and letting agents to allow councils to know where to concentrate their enforcement action.
But the damning assessment presented by the government data and additional investigations into the pilot will raise fears that the scheme will prove unworkable and, if it is seen as encouraging discrimination, could be open to challenge.
Landlords will be responsible for recognising – and spotting fakes of – 444 documents issued by different countries in the European economic area, one immigration lawyer told the Economist.
Rose Carey, an immigration specialist at Charles Russell Speechlys, added that any landlord who does face charges of discrimination could also be embroiled in expensive civil litigation.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The evaluation of Right to Rent is currently being completed, but there are no indications so far to suggest landlord checks are being carried out unfairly.
“Right to Rent is not designed to be a money-making scheme or to catch out honest landlords. Instead, we want to help landlords carry out the proper checks so that those who do not have the right to be in the UK cannot access rented accommodation.
“We do not recognise figures suggesting only half of landlords checked potential tenants’ right to rent.”
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