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Property Hawk

Landlords and the Immigration Bill

Rebecca Brough solicitor at Fidler and Pepper highlights the potential dangers and consequences of the new Immigration Bill 2013 for unwary landlords.

The background

There is much debate at the moment about the Immigration Bill 2013. Last month it had its’ second reading in the House of Parliament and will now move to the Committee Stage. This Bill, if enacted, is expected to come into force early next year and will mean extra checks for landlords and letting agents.



Why it is important

Theresa May, Home Secretary has said the Bill is important to "ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute".  From a practical point of view I am sure as a landlord you want to ensure that your tenant does contribute - namely to the rent.  In response to claims that forcing private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants would be unworkable, she replied that they would just be "required to ask some simple questions".   Unfortunately she hasn’t provided a great deal of guidance in what these “extra questions” will be.

Could it cause discrimination?

Organisations representing private and public sector landlords believe that the measures would make it much harder for non-British people to access housing even when they have a legal right to live in the UK.  Further, some MPs fear that it will lead to discrimination by landlords either directly or indirectly.  If you have several people wanting to rent your property it may be easier to rent to people you knowingly know are UK or EAA Citizens thus ensuring you don't have to do extra checks and incur extra costs.  

So what does the detail of the Bill say:

Section 16 of the Bill states that a person is disqualified as a result of their immigration status from occupying premises under a residential tenancy agreement if they are:

  • Not a relevant national and they require leave to enter or remain in the UK but does not have it.
  • Their leave to enter or remain in the UK is subject to a condition preventing them from occupying the premises

Under Section 17 a landlord 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.

What could happen if landlords do not check the immigration status of their tenants?


If the landlord contravenes section 17 they may be given a penalty up to £3000 per adult illegal immigrant.  This is applicable to tenancies commencing after the Bill has been enacted.

Basically, in plain English this means that landlords and letting agents will have to carry out immigration checks on any  new tenants from the date the bill is enacted and are not allowed to rent property to people who are not allowed to reside in the UK.  Landlords will have a defence if they have carried out the necessary checks.

By any new tenants it not only means any new lettings, it means those existing tenants who you issue a new Agreement to and any tenants who hold over on a periodic tenancy.

What needs to be checked?


But what are those checks, how do you go about doing it and what happens if the tenant isn't happy with that.  The Government state that the checks would be similar to those that employers do now – requesting a copy of a passport, driving licence, national insurance number.

However, the European Union recognises 404 legitimate means of personal identification - would landlords recognise documents other than a passport, driving licence or National Insurance number, I am sure the majority of landlords would never have seen many of these documents.  And as one person commented - "would your average man on the street be able to spot a Greek Passport, which has no English on the front cover?" - I know I wouldn't be able to.  Another point that was raised is that someone from Republic of Cyprus can freely enter the UK, but someone from Northern Cyprus requires a visa to enter the country - I certainly didn't know this, although I do now!  But what other things don't we know? 

How are landlords and letting agents going to be able to carry out all the checks and be confident that they have got it right.  There will be several companies who will set up checking services, similar to those offered by tenant referencing services, but this is placing extra cost at the landlord's expense - not the government.

What next?


In many ways, we will have to wait until more information has been agreed. Whilst this article raises more questions than it may answer it hopefully makes landlords aware of some of the issues they may face. My advice at this early stage is just to be aware of the potential changes.  I will keep you informed and let you know when the bill is to be enacted and hopefully when the bill is enacted some useful guidelines will be given to assist landlords and letting agents.

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Comments (12)

Immigration checks
Simple answer, only rent to those obviously British, how are we meant to know if various documents are not forgeries.
#1 - martin - 11/22/2013 - 15:05
Immigration Bill
I have mixed views on these proposals. It would be better if the government refused entry or actively removed those who have no right to be here. However, accepting that the government is inept and a joke I'll do my bit but the government needs to have in place a central, contactable and free service so that landlords can submit prospective tenant's documents to establish their immigration status and so indemnify that the landlord has done as much as is reasonably possible. Australia and New Zealand have accebale systems to check people's visa status.
#2 - Northernman - 11/22/2013 - 22:02
Immigration Bill
What a dogs dinner piece of legislation. That the Government has signally failed to prevent entry to these people in the first place shows an inept and incompetent administration. That same administration now passes the buck to private individuals to do their business for them. And these are supposedly intelligent people !!!
#3 - PeterK - 11/23/2013 - 20:27
Immigration bill
Lets face it, we have no choice but to do this and asking for copies of a couple of documents before agreeing to a tenancy is not exactly going to take huge amounts of time. However there are a few issues :

1. If we choose not to rent to non UK or EU citizens, does this open us to prosecution for race discrimination?

2. If the documents provided turn out to be forgeries are we liable? If we are to be liable then what FREE facility are the government providing to allow us to check them?

3. What happens if sitting tenants dont provide the documents? How long do they have to provide them? Do we have to start eviction proceedings with all the time and cost that involves and on what grounds as lack of proof of immigration status isn't a valid ground for eviction currently.
#4 - Chris - 11/25/2013 - 13:04
This is another dumb idea, to create more jobs.
It is the governments responsibility to do such checks. Not a landlords.
How would a landlord know if a passport or viaa is genuine or fake ?
#5 - Nel - 11/25/2013 - 13:43
no way to check
The most amusing thing I can observe about this meaningless piece of legislation is that is completely unenforceable. A person who is a full British Citizen does not require a passport, a driving licence or indeed any other form of identification to legally reside and go about their business, let alone foreign nationals. By the governments own statistics, there are 120 million National Insurance numbers in current circulation, you do the math. As is also quite rightly pointed out here, a humble civillian does not have any ability to do any checks to authenticate someone's immigration status anyway, ergo no one will ever be prosecuted under these regulations unless they are smuggling in illegal immigrants into the country themselves. One does wonder how Oxford and Cambridge universities produce these rather unintelligent folk with PPEs to run the country.
#6 - Lewis Brand - 11/25/2013 - 14:18
Immigration
I work in payroll and as the government always does the burden is put on the employer to ensure that the immigrants are legal yet they are automatically given a N/I number.
The checks are usually passport with information about their status. Usually the stamp nside will say either joining family, student, or leave to remain and work in the UK, /they should also have paperwork. No paper work no then no house and no job, Take copies of any paperwork. Obviosly these things can be forged but w cannot be expected to know about that. As long as we can show that we have done all we can then we cannot be held responsible. Personally I do not want illegals in my houses and nor should any one else.
#7 - christine Walmsley - 11/25/2013 - 18:31
Checking systems
The whole Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checking farce needs to be simplified by the establishment of a central register for every person legitimately in this Country. Checks could then - with the individual's express authority - be made to the FREE access register via one simple on-line application and take perhaps a minute to do. The current CRB system is very poor, overly demanding and tedious, can require some to need half a dozen or more separate checks and certificates - for various activities they may be involved in - as they are not transferable (and many of which aren't done properly or renewed annually as required anyway). I should have one for a school I work in (got originally but not renewed last year), a youth football club I referee for (I have ignored the request and no-one has followed up). Joke!
Set this 'simple' central register up, Mrs May, and we can then be expected to use it.
#8 - Martyn Battrick - 11/26/2013 - 08:17
No way to check 2
A National Insurance number is simply a reference point for the taxman, not a form of identification or reference to a person's legal right to work or reside in the U.K. The government are more than happy to register illegal immigrants for tax purposes, which of course should be illegal. Being born in the U.K is not a guarantee of being British, nor is being born abroad not. I really do not understand the reference to CRB checks mentioned above, nobody needs a CRB check to rent a house. My grandmother never had a passport or a driving licence, she even had different names on her birth and death certificates, simply because she didn't like her given names ( without changing them legally by either deed poll or sworn witnessed statement ) . As I said before, this legislation is unworkable, unless we adopt an identity card system. I think we have been there before.
#9 - Lewis Brand - 11/26/2013 - 22:06
My article are raised some interesting questions. I quite agree that the Government is trying to put the onus on the individual instead of doing their job. It is difficult to say yet how hard any enforcement action will be - but reading the documents now if a landlord has carried out reasonable checks (and I think they will be similar to those Christine has mentioned) the landlord will have a defence. We can't be expected to know whether something is a forgery or not. As I have said I will keep you posted - who knows this section of the Bill might not make it into the final Act!
#10 - Rebecca Brough - 11/27/2013 - 13:56
Landlords and the Immigration Bill
As far as I am concerned if you are a tenant in my property, you look after the property in accordance with the terms of the lease and you pay your rent on time; I am not worried that you might not have the necessary papers to be a permanent resident of the UK; after all you could be visiting the UK and in need of renting a property for the duration which by the way a visit visa can be for up to 6 months. Likewise; you can also have a guarantor if necessary; i.e. someone that will sign your lease and be responsible to overcome this situation. As for the government wanting to fine landlords for renting their properties; they had better think twice; no one will admit to this and frankly why should we be fined because they failed to prevent these people from overstaying; as far as I am concerned if you are the UK with valid visa in your passport for whatever reason at the time of signing the lease I am happy to proceed. If you later decide as my tenant to breach the UK immigration policy then that is a matter for the immigration office and you and nothing to do with me... Lets get real here we are not immigration officers we are property owners lettting out our property to would be good tenants..
#11 - Paul Beale - 11/29/2013 - 18:47
New opportunity to extract cash!
isn't this just an opportunity for letting agents/new comapnies to setup a service to the landlord? Then they will do the check and charge accordingly which of course we pass on to the prospective tenant. If so i will get everyone interested in teh property to pay, no matter what their nationality - if only to protect me from any form of discrimination claim in the future
#12 - Alec Tritton - 12/09/2013 - 11:33
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