The Right to Rent scheme was introduced as part of the Immigration Act 2014, to help ensure people seeking a tenancy have a legal right to be in the UK. It was initially implemented in the West Midlands from December 1st last year, where Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton were used to test the scheme’s operation.
Following a satisfactory review of the first six months, the scheme is being introduced nationwide from today, 1st February 2016.
The scheme requires landlords, or their agents, to carry out identity checks by securing documentation with a photograph on it, such as a passport, permanent residence card or immigration status document, that proves prospective tenants are either UK nationals, or have the right to live and work in the country. You can find a complete list of all the accepted documents on the government GOV.UK website. At Reeds Rains, we have been doing this as a matter of course as part of our referencing process for many years and with agents in the West Midlands, we are already used to the system. But if you carry out your own tenant checks, you must make sure that you obtain this proof of residency from next February. If you don’t, and are found to be letting to someone who is here illegally, the penalty is up to £3,000 per tenant.
The Home Office evaluation of the pilot scheme showed that neither landlords nor letting agents felt it had had any effect on the housing market, in terms of rent prices, turnover or availability of accommodation. Most said that the checks were relatively undemanding to carry out, although a few did say they had taken longer than expected; between 20 minutes and an hour. Given that most of us are only familiar with a UK passport, it will naturally be more time-consuming initially to verify other types of documentation - particularly from the EU and further afield – and of course, some use false documents which you will need to try and spot.
Support is available via a helpline and an online system produced by the Government that can check and confirm whether an individual has a right to be in the UK. There is also a case-checking service for tenants whose immigration application is still with the Home Office, which aims to provide a clear yes/no answer within two working days. During the six-month evaluation, all decisions – 94 ‘yes’ and 15 ‘no’ – were reached within the two-day target.
In terms of illegal activity flagged up by the scheme, a total of 109 people were identified as not having the right to be in the UK, 63 of whom the Home Office was unaware of1. Five penalty notices were issued to landlords.
So the scheme is helping the Department of Immigration clamp down on those who are here illegally and the fines are putting money back into government coffers, but what are the real benefits of the scheme to the industry?
Well, assuming the authorities continue to closely monitor the checks and follow them up, it will make it very difficult for rogue landlords who, until now, have been overcrowding their properties with illegal immigrants, and that can be only good news for everyone involved in the industry. Not only that, but once a tenant has handed over concrete identification, they’re far less likely to disappear and break the terms of their tenancy.
If we don’t currently handle tenant checks for you, we’d be very happy to discuss how we can help with this. Find your local branch or call 0845 450 0865 (calls cost 2 pence per minute plus your phone company's access charge) or email firstname.lastname@example.org