The concept of right to rent was introduced by the Immigration Act 2014 as part of the UK Government’s reforms to ‘build a fairer and more effective immigration system.’ The law aims to deter those who are illegally residing in the UK or those with limited rights from overstaying in the country.
Since 1 February 2016, all landlords and agents in England have been required by law to check a tenant’s immigration status or ‘right to rent’ in England before letting a property to them. Failure to carry out these checks properly is a civil offence subject to a fine – see below the section on ‘Changes to the right to rent rules’.
Knowingly letting a property to a disqualified person is a criminal offence - there is a risk of prosecution for the most serious cases. However, this law is not intended for landlords who simply make a genuine mistake when trying to comply with the right to rent scheme.
This article aims to answer some of the common questions raised by this rather complex process: what is required for a right to rent check? What is a valid right to rent check? Who has the right to rent in the UK? And, when should right to rent checks be done?
Note: this guide gives an outline of the rules only and is not a comprehensive interpretation. Landlords should read the code of practice for a complete understanding of the latest right to rent rules.
Adjustments made to right to rent checks during the Covid pandemic (30 March 2020) were ended on 30 September 2022. From 1 October 2022, landlords must revert back to the prescribed information on these checks as set out in the Code of practice on right to rent – see a link to the latest version below.
All landlords and their agents in England have a legal responsibility under the Immigration Act 2014 legislation to prevent those without lawful immigration status from accessing the private rented sector.
Fines for landlords who breach right to rent rules were increased from 13 February 2024. Penalties for landlords who fail to follow the rules increased from £80 per lodger and £1,000 per occupier up to £5,000 per lodger and £10,000 per occupier, for a first breach.
Repeated breaches bring fines up from £500 per lodger and £3,000 per occupier, to £10,000 per lodger and £20,000 per occupier.
In addition to fines, landlords face a potential criminal record and ultimately imprisonment for failure to properly check a lodger or renting occupier's right to rent status.
The latest version (13 February 2024) of the Right to rent immigration checks: landlords' code of practice is now available, setting out the new higher penalties for failing to comply with the right to rent requirements. These latest changes are in response to the Government’s drive to curb illegal immigration.
If landlords or their agents conduct the right to rent checks as set out in the Government guidance and the code of practice, they will have a statutory excuse against liability if they are found to have rented to a person who is disqualified from renting because of their immigration status. This simply means that if the checks were done correctly, no penalty will be issued if it turns out the individual did not in fact have the right to rent a property. To establish a statutory excuse landlords must do one of the following before entering into a tenancy agreement with a prospective tenant, and have carried out required follow-up checks:
Landlords can also use the Landlord Checking Service where an individual has an outstanding application, administrative review or appeal, or if their immigration status requires verification by the Home Office, for example in the case of Crown Dependencies.
In each case it is important that landlords or their agents record and keep the necessary documentation to evidence that they have complied with the legislation.
Landlords must conduct right to rent checks in a fair, justifiable and consistent manner, regardless as to whether they believe the tenant to be British, settled in the UK or a person with limited permission to be in the UK. Landlords or their agents need to be careful not to discriminate when carrying out right to rent checks, and make sure everyone is treated exactly the same. Consult the Code of practice for avoiding unlawful discrimination when conducting right to rent checks in the private residential sector.
There are three very simple ways to avoid being accused of discrimination: check everyone, check everyone using exactly the same process, and keep documentary evidence of everything. These same principles apply for tenant vetting generally, outside of right to rent.
Landlords or their agents can rent property to any person who has a right to reside in the UK. This could be a British citizen or a person who has unlimited or time-limited right to rent, that is, foreign nationals who have evidence of lawful immigration status in the UK.
Since 1 July 2021 and Brexit, all European Economic Area (EEA) citizens and their family members must undergo right to rent checks. The EEA includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. They are part of the EU ‘s single market. Switzerland is not an EU or EEA member but is part of the single market.
To prove their right to rent, tenants can no longer rely on an EEA passport or national identity card, as this only confirms their nationality. They are required to provide evidence of lawful immigration status in the UK, in the same way as other foreign nationals. The exception to this is Irish Republic citizens, who continue to have a continuous right to rent. They can prove their right to rent using their passport or passport card.
All private landlords or their agents in England, including those subletting, taking in lodgers and providing leases for less than seven years, have to check the residence status of any new tenant over the age of 18 to make sure they have the right to be in the UK, before renting out a property to them.
Landlords or their agents must see original documentation which proves the tenant has a right to live in the UK and they must check the documents’ validity in the presence of the holder. They must then make and retain a copy of the documents and record the date of the check – legible photocopies or photos of relevant documents are acceptable.
If the person’s right to rent in the UK is for a limited time only, the landlord will need to make a note of the date this tenant’s right will expire, at which point a further check for residency rights will be required.
The responsibility for doing right to rent checks falls on either the landlord who is letting the property, the landlord’s agent or the occupier landlord who is letting to lodgers. Tenants who sublet a part or all of the rental property are responsible for that letting and must do the right to rent checks, though this responsibility can be passed over to the superior landlord, providing both parties agree to this in writing.
An agent acting on behalf of the landlord can take on the responsibility for doing the right to rent checks, but this should be by agreement with the landlord and should always be evidenced in writing.
The checks can be carried out up to 28 days before the tenancy commences, and must be complete before it starts.
The right to rent scheme applies to every tenant over the age of 18 who is living at the rental property and using it as their only or main residence. Landlords or their agents are obliged to check all adults for their immigration status, including British passport holders. This also includes anyone who may live in the property but isn’t necessarily named on the tenancy agreement.
It is not necessary to do checks for tenants in certain types of tenancy, where the property type is excluded from the scheme. These include:
If a landlord buys a property with sitting tenants, they should confirm with the transferring landlord that right to rent checks have been carried out correctly and retain the evidence, for example, copies of the documents checked. A note should be taken of whether follow-up checks must be conducted, and when these are due, to make sure a statutory excuse against a penalty is maintained.
The right to rent scheme does not apply to children, so landlords don’t need to check a tenant’s children, providing they are satisfied that they are under 18 years of age when the tenancy commences. If these children turn 18 during a tenancy term, landlords are not required to conduct a right to rent check at that point, but where follow-up checks are required for the existing tenants, the now adult resident should be included in those checks.
In some cases, landlords may need to accept a tenant in principle. It may not be practical to check the documents of someone before the tenancy is agreed, for example, if a person lives abroad or at a distance. In these circumstances, landlords can agree to a tenancy in principle over a video link and then check the tenant’s documents in person when they arrive in the UK. Landlords or agents still need to do a full right to rent check before the start of their residential tenancy.
Where tenants rely on a document from ‘List B’ of the list of acceptable documents (see below), you will only establish a statutory excuse for a limited time period, known as the ‘eligibility period’, which will be one of the following:
A follow-up check can be made at any time, such as when a tenant has extended their immigration permission. To maintain a statutory excuse landlords and agents will need to conduct a follow-up check before the end of the eligibility period.
Checks must be carried out on all residents over the age of 18, regardless of whether their names appear on the tenancy agreement or not. Landlords or their agents should be prepared to monitor every tenancy over time to make sure that all residents have been checked for right to rent status.
Where a right to rent check is conducted using the Home Office online service, the information is provided in real time, directly from Home Office systems, and there is no need to see any or a combination of any of the documents listed below.
Examples of the documents, how to check them and how to copy them can be found in the Landlord’s guide to right to rent checks, where two lists are identified:
List A lists acceptable documents to establish a continuous statutory excuse. Where a prospective tenant produces either one document from group one or two documents from group two, then they will not require a follow-up check. For example, group one includes a passport (current or expired) showing that the holder is a British citizen or a citizen of the UK and colonies having the ‘right of abode’ in the UK. Group two includes documents such as a birth or adoption certificate.
There are many different types of documents which are acceptable, including single documents, combined documents and those where a time limited statutory excuse applies.
Landlords should check expiry dates, that the documents appear genuine, show no signs of being tampered with and that they belong to the holder. Photographs and dates of birth should be consistent across documents and match the person’s appearance.
Some tenant referencing companies offer enhanced ID checking services for right to rent, along with standard tenant vetting, but it is still important to have sight of original documents in the presence of the individuals, and to take copies.
List B lists acceptable documents to establish a time-limited statutory excuse. If a prospective tenant can produce one document from this group, then a time-limited statutory excuse will be established. A follow-up check will be required within the timescales outlined in eligibility periods.
The Home Office has an effective Landlord Checking Service which anyone can use. Landlords and agents can use the service if their prospective tenant does not have any acceptable documents to prove they have the right to reside in the UK.
They will need a Home Office reference number to process the check, with the results returned within two working days. There is also a telephone helpline: 0300 790 6268.
If you know or strongly suspect that someone living in the property does not have the correct immigration status, you should make a report to the Home Office. This will maintain your statutory excuse, and you are not required to end the tenancy immediately.
However, if you do wish to end the tenancy then, or the tenants do not leave by the time their notice period has expired, you can:
You can use a share code to check a tenant’s right to rent your residential property in England, if you are:
You do not need to check a tenant’s right to rent property in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
You can use the share code service if your tenant:
You can also check their original documents instead - for example if you do not have a share code.
You will need the tenant’s:
The share code will be emailed to you or given to you by the tenant.
Landlord Action, part of the HFIS group, can advise on queries relating to eviction and housing law. For more information contact their advice team on at email@example.com
For more detailed information on right to rent, you can find the latest guidance at GOV.UK.
Read our comprehensive guide, ‘Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know’ for more information on lettings laws and how you can be compliant.