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Right to Rent: private landlords' duty to carry out immigration status checks

Published Tuesday, August 1, 2017

This Commons Library briefing paper provides an overview of Right to Rent checks which must be carried out by private landlords/agents in England. The checks were introduced by the Immigration Act 2014. Breaches may, in some circumstances, amount to a criminal offence after changes introduced by the Immigration Act 2016.

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Why Right to Rent checks?

As part of Government attempts to cut down on illegal migration, the Immigration Act 2014 introduced a number of measures to restrict access to services for those without a valid right to remain in the UK. One of these measures was a requirement on private sector landlords to check that their tenants’ immigration status does not disqualify them from renting property. Since February 2016, landlords who allow tenants without a so-called Right to Rent to occupy their property could be liable for a civil penalty.

The Immigration Act 2016 has, since 1 December 2016, meant that in some circumstances landlords who breach the Right to Rent provisions may commit a criminal offence.

Landlords' responsibilities

The Government has published a short guide for landlords on the Right to Rent and a code of practice which reminds landlords of their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.  

Under section 22 of the Immigration Act 2014, landlords "must not authorise an adult to occupy premises under a residential tenancy agreement if the adult is disqualified as a result of their immigration status." The legislation does not apply to those under 18 or those not renting the property as their main home.

Adults are disqualified if they do not have unlimited or a time-limited right to remain in the UK, or if they have a right to remain but are barred from renting property as a condition of their immigration status. 

In order to check a tenant’s immigration status, landlords need to view original immigration documents in the presence (or via live video link) of the applicant, make copies of the documents, and keep the copies for 12 months after the tenancy expires. Where a person has no time limit on their stay in the UK, checks may be undertaken at any point before the residential tenancy agreement is granted. However, where a person has a time-limited right to remain, the checks can take place no more than 28 days before the commencement of the tenancy agreement. 

For applicants whose immigration documents are held by the Home Office and are therefore not available, the Home Office has created a Landlords Checking Service. This online tool will provide an answer to questions on an applicant’s Right to Rent. If no answer is received from the service within 48 hours, the landlord has a statutory excuse against liability for a penalty.

If a follow-up check indicates an occupier no longer has the Right to Rent, landlords are required to report this to the Home Office "as soon as reasonably practical." The 2016 Act has strengthened the reporting responsibilities on landlords and made it easier for them to evict tenants without a Right to Rent.

If a landlord uses an agency to carry out Right to Rent checks a written agreement between the landlord and the agency needs to be drawn up, otherwise the landlord will remain responsible for any breaches and be liable for any associated penalties.

Scheme evaluation and impact

Given the additional burdens this it was expected to place on landlords, the policy has proved controversial within the private rented sector, with a number of concerns raised by landlord associations at the consultation stage and during the 2014 Act’s progress through Parliament. These concerns centred on the potential burden placed on landlords and the possible incentives for discrimination. Consequently, the scheme was piloted in five West Midlands council areas from 1 December 2014. The results of the pilot scheme were published in October 2015: Evaluation of the Right to Rent scheme. The scheme was subsequently rolled-out across England from 1 February 2016.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) carried out an independent assessment of the pilot programme alongside Shelter, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), the National Union of Students and Movement Against Xenophobia. JCWI also published research in Passport Please (February 2017) which presents evidence of discrimination against all foreign nationals, those who do not have a passport, and British ethnic minorities.

The checks are controversial amongst landlords; over half of respondents to the Government’s 2013 consultation exercise disagreed with the principle of the policy. The Resdiential Landord Association asserted that "untrained British civilians" should not be expected to undertake the work of immigration officials. The RLA also opposed measures in the 2016 Act to criminalise landlords in certain circumstances.

Extension to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

The checks are currently only mandatory in England. Powers to extend the checks were included in the 2016 Act but the devolved nations are not generally supportive of an extension.

Commons Briefing papers SN07025

Authors: Alex Bate; Shiro Ota; Alexander Bellis

Topics: Housing, Immigration, Private rented housing

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