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Right to rent pilot starts in the West Midlands

14 December 2014

Private Landlord’s in the West Midlands must now check the immigration status of their new tenants or face a fine of up to £3000. 

Carrying out reference checks has long been best practice for landlords to help reduce the risk of taking on a problematic tenant. However, following government crackdown on illegal immigration, it has now become mandatory for Landlords in Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton to ask prospective tenants to produce evidence of their right to live in the UK.

This is the first phase of a trial scheme implemented by the Liberal Democrats which is designed to create a hostile environment for those immigrants that do not have permission to live in Britain. The Home Office expects to evaluate the scheme after the general election in May before extending it throughout the UK next year.

Under the new proposals, Landlords in the West Midlands must now request to see a passport or residence permit for all potential tenants as proof of their right-to-rent. These files should also be kept on record for twelve months after a tenancy has ended. If an applicant cannot provide satisfactory evidence of identity or citizenship, the Landlord should not let their property to them.

In theory, immigration checks can likely be incorporated into landlords’ existing referencing procedures with relatively little difficulty. However, many industry leaders have their reservations about the checks.

It has been questioned whether this new legislation will lead to discrimination against those immigrants who are entitled to rent in Britain. A code of conduct issued alongside the announcement insists that all tenants should be checked, regardless of perceived nationality; only those with direct links to the Landlord may be exempt.

Mary Latham, West Midlands representative for the National Landlords Association (NLA) said: “As the lettings market is a very competitive arena, it is entirely conceivable that landlords could end up favouring ‘low-risk’ tenants or those whose legal right to reside in the UK is clear-cut.

“Therefore the NLA advises all landlords to look at the Home Office’s guidance on unlawful discrimination as well as the Code of Practice, which includes a list of acceptable documents to use to verify a tenant’s immigration status.”

But with fines running into the thousands for breaking the law, Landlords may be inclined to refuse a tenancy to perfectly legitimate tenants through fear of government penalty or to simply save time on referencing.

Campaigners including Graham Jukes, Chief Executive Officer for the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, have warned that the scheme “will drive discrimination, encouraging otherwise fair-minded landlords and agents to let to white tenants with British sounding names, just to reduce the likelihood of additional bureaucracy from the Home Office”.

The immigration minister, James Brokenshire, has defended the move. He said: "The right to rent checks will be quick and simple, but will make it more difficult for immigration offenders to stay in the country when they have no right to be here.”

“They will also act as a new line of attack against unscrupulous landlords who exploit people by renting out substandard, overcrowded and unsafe accommodation”