Thursday, 22 August 2019

What are Right to Rent checks?

Since February 2016 all private landlords in England have had to check their prospective tenants right to live in the UK. The pilot scheme prior to this was responsible for finding 109 individuals living in the UK illegally, as landlords are responsible for reporting such people to the Home Office. A landlord’s failure to undertake these checks is a criminal offence that can lead to five years imprisonment and an unlimited fine (don’t worry landlords of mine - I do the checks for you).

The severity of the punishment for failing in these duties and the complexities around the issue has given rise to claims that the Right to Rent checks have led to discrimination against those without a UK passport. Indeed, a recent High Court ruling has said the Right to Rent checks are discriminatory and breach human right laws and that proposals to roll it out in Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland would be illegal without further evaluation. Meanwhile English landlords and letting agents are still having to follow the law as is.

I made it known during a consultation before the legislation was formally announced that this was likely to happen. If there are two suitable tenants vying for the same property and one has a UK passport and the other doesn’t (meaning you have to do further detective work regarding their immigration status, which if you get wrong could land you in serious trouble) there's a good chance as to which tenant the landlord will choose to take on.

The checks involve the landlord or letting agent seeing original identification documents from all occupants of their property over the age of 18 and retaining a copy of them. There’s a list of the acceptable documentation on the government’s website, and yes seeing a UK passport is probably the easiest to verify (as you know what one is supposed to look and feel like). Plus, tenants with an expiry date on their right to stay in the country must be checked again and proof taken that this has been extended, when the time comes.

It should only take a bit of ‘googling’ though to determine whether alternative documents are authentic so, whilst I can understand landlords’ frustrations in having to undertake the checks in the first place, I don’t think the additional administration should stop them from renting to the best tenant they (legally) can, regardless of nationality.

Time will tell as to what impact Brexit will have on this process, but seeing as Swiss nationals have an unlimited Right to Rent my guess is this will remain the case with EU/EAA citizens.

If you're still worried about it all though (more than 400 landlords were fined an average of £654 for failing to do the checks in the first two years) you could always hire a decent letting agent to do things for you....

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