‘Right to Rent’ immigration scheme to be rolled out across England from February

James Brokenshire
James Brokenshire

The UK government is to press ahead with plans requiring landlords to check the immigration status of renters despite a pilot scheme evaluation revealing the policy had an “alarming” impact on homelessness and the “potential” for discrimination.

The Home Office announced on Tuesday that from 1 February 2016, all private landlords in England will have to check new tenants have the right to be in the UK before renting out their property.

Under the new rules, landlords who fail to check a potential tenant’s ‘Right to Rent’ will face penalties of up to £3,000 per tenant.

Set out in the 2015 Immigration Bill, the new law will mean that private landlords, including those who sub-let or take in lodgers, must check the right of prospective tenants to be in the country to avoid being hit with a penalty.

Having been piloted in the West Midlands, the plans drew serious concerns from landlords who questioned why the policy was being rolled out before an assessment into the impact of the pilot took place.

Meanwhile a report published by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, found that landlords in the West Midlands were refusing lawful tenants as they were becoming increasingly cautious about renting property out to any tenant with identity documents which are not familiar.

Now a Home Office evaluation of the pilot scheme in Birmingham, also published on Tuesday, has revealed that six of the local charities surveyed said people they represent had become homeless as a result of the scheme, while interviews with landlords found the ‘potential’ for discrimination. Seven of the charities reported that people who have the right to rent, but not the right documentation, were struggling to find accommodation.

Responding to the evaluation, national homelessness charity Crisis raised grave concerns that the measures could leave people homeless and at risk of discrimination.

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “Today’s Home Office evaluation contains some alarming findings about the homelessness impact of these plans. Crisis has already raised serious concerns that requiring landlords to check the immigration status of renters could make it even harder for homeless people to find a place to live, and this report shows that our fears are well founded.

“It is deeply troubling that in the pilot area, six of the local charities surveyed said that people they represent had become homeless as a result of the scheme, while seven indicated that people with the right to rent were struggling to find accommodation.

“Homeless people’s documents often get lost or stolen, and in today’s high pressure rental market, landlords will be more likely to rent to someone who can provide the evidence quickly. As well as creating problems for homeless people, this could lead to discrimination against foreign nationals and people of black and minority ethnic backgrounds, as today’s evaluation suggests.

“As members of the advisory panel we will be raising these concerns with the Home Office and strongly urge the government to work with us to make sure nobody is made homeless because of this scheme.”

The Scottish Government has said it will do all it can to stand against the proposal but confirmed that the bill will enable UK ministers to extend the eviction measures to Scotland through secondary legislation.

Just last month the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland added its voice to growing concerns over the potential impact of the bill on migrants living in the private rented sector.

UK immigration minister James Brokenshire said that right to rent is part of the government’s reforms to build a fairer and more effective immigration system.

He said: “Right to rent checks are quick and simple, and many responsible landlords already do them as a matter of routine. We are providing landlords in England with all the advice and support they need before the checks go live on 1 February 2016.

“The new rules are part of the Immigration Act 2014 which introduced measures to reform the immigration system. Right to rent is about deterring those who are illegally resident from remaining in the UK. Those with a legitimate right to be here will be able to prove this easily and will not be adversely affected.

“The government’s new Immigration Bill builds on the reforms in last year’s Act, making it harder for people to live and work in the UK illegally. The bill proposes new measures to make it easier for landlords to evict illegal tenants as well as a new criminal offence targeted at unscrupulous landlords who repeatedly fail to carry out right to rent checks.”

David Cox, managing director of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), added: “We welcome the Home Office’s announcement today that the Right to Rent checks will be rolled out nationally from 1st February 2016, following a pilot scheme in the West Midlands. The pilot was a success and we are pleased that letting agents reported that the scheme actually assisted, rather than hindered, their own ID checks. The roll out will continue to help to weed out the minority of rogue landlords who exploit vulnerable immigrants for their own financial gain – as seen during the pilot scheme. The Immigration Bill 2015 will further develop these plans when passed next year, through harsher penalties (including criminal offences), aimed at those landlords and unregulated agents that aren’t complying with basic laws.

“Implementing the scheme across the whole of England, instead in further pilot phases, will also remove any confusion from landlords and agents about whether they are required to comply. However, it’s really important that the Government works with the private rental sector to prepare and inform professionals working in the sector, in advance of the new regime so that well-meaning landlords and agents do not fall foul of the new legislation unknowingly.”

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