The accidental landlord: ombudsman won't root out rogue agents

Victoira Whitlock is pleased about a new compulsory redress scheme, but believes the Government should ban dodgy charges
Apparently, I'm to be given a new job by the Government and normally I'd be thrilled. But as this one has come without pay, training or any clear instructions about what on earth I'm supposed to be doing, you'll understand why I'm not down the pub celebrating.

I'm not even sure which Whitehall department I'm supposed to be working for: it could be the police, Border Agency or possibly MI5. I'm to be a copper, an immigration officer and a spy rolled into one.

You see, the Government announced in the Queen's Speech last week that at some point in the future — no one is clear exactly when — private landlords like yours truly will be obliged to help official attempts to crack down on illegal immigration.

As part of a new Immigration Act, the two million-plus private landlords in the country will have to check the passports and visas of everyone who applies to rent a property or a room before accepting them as a tenant. We'll be unpaid border guards.

Yes, that's right, when illegal immigrants manage to give immigration officers the slip and sneak into the country unnoticed, it will be my duty, as an untrained, inexperienced, slightly clueless landlord, to spot them and … then …. well no one's sure exactly what I'll have to do with them.

If landlords are found to have unknowingly or otherwise let a property to someone who doesn't have a right to live here, they will be fined. No one knows exactly how much, but it is going to be thousands of pounds. As you've probably gathered, details of this plan are a little sketchy right now because the Government

How the hell am I supposed to check the validity of a passport and a visa when trained, experienced immigration officers have failed? I have a lot of tenants from overseas so this is potentially a nightmare for me. I often ask for a copy of a tenant's passport as proof of ID if they haven't got a reference from a previous landlord or one from work, because they've just moved to the UK from overseas.

But I haven't a clue how to spot a fake passport and I wouldn't know a valid visa from a forgery. I mean, why would I? How will I even know which tenants need visas to live in the UK? In future, will I have to ask everyone who looks or sounds vaguely foreign for proof of their ID? And won't this lead to accusations of racism? Will landlords have to ask for passports from all tenants to avoid offending anyone? And what if a British applicant doesn't have one? If I refuse to let to someone because I'm concerned they might not have the correct paperwork, will they claim it's because of their race or colour? I can see this leading to quite a few uncomfortable conversations.

And what if the tenant sublets the property to illegal immigrants behind the landlord's back? Will they still be blamed for not checking the ID of people they didn't even know were living in their property? I can see subletting, already a problem for some landlords, becoming more prevalent if tenants aren't able to let a property under their own names without a valid passport.

I'd be worried by this impending legislation if I thought the Government would actually go through with it. However, I reckon that during the promised "period of consultation" over the next few months, someone with half a brain will persuade them their plan is totally nuts and they'll let it drop.

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