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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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