The accidental landlord: why Government's right to rent scheme could cause hassle for landlords

Making landlords responsible for weeding out illegal immigrants will backfire on tenants with every right to be here, says Victoria Whitlock
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Does the Government realise, I wonder, how much more difficult it is going to be for some tenants to find accommodation if and when it rolls out its new "right to rent" scheme across the UK?

Right to rent is a new requirement for landlords to check that prospective tenants have the right to reside in the UK before letting them rent a property. Yes, that’s right. Landlords who have absolutely no training or experience of the immigration system will be responsible for checking the status of their tenants to make sure they are legally entitled to live in Britain. 

Those landlords who fail to carry out adequate checks and deliberately or inadvertently let to illegal immigrants could be slapped with a £3,000 fine. 

Landlords in the West Midlands are going to be the guinea pigs for this scheme, which was introduced there first on December 1, so unless you have a rental property in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley or Wolverhampton you don’t need to worry just yet. A date for the introduction of right to rent in London and the rest of the South-East hasn’t been announced and I live in hope that it won’t happen.

However, if the Government persists with its plan for landlords across the country to act as unpaid, inexperienced immigration officers, this is bound to lead to many of us needlessly refusing to let to thousands of people, many of them British.

To avoid being accused of discrimination, landlords will have to ask for photo ID from every single prospective tenant.  The Government’s advisory leaflet says the checks will be “straightforward and quick”, but how straightforward and quick will it be for Britons without a passport?

These tenants will have to produce a combination of two other documents to prove their Britishness, such as a birth certificate, driver’s licence, a letter from their employer or from a higher educational institute confirming their enrolment on a course, or a letter from a prison or probation officer. 

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t a clue where my birth certificate is, I’m self-employed and I haven’t had the pleasure of being acquainted with anyone from HMS Prisons, so if I wanted to rent I’d be stuffed if I didn’t have a passport.

This scheme could actually make it harder for some British citizens to find rental accommodation than foreigners because at least the latter should have documents to show they can live here, and if they don’t the Home Office has an online form landlords can use to check their status. In these cases landlords will get a yes or no answer within two days.

Whether letting to British citizens or foreigners, under the new scheme landlords will be obliged to keep a scanned copy of a tenant’s ID for a year after the end of the tenancy, which poses a further problem. If you keep a tenant’s personal data, it must be under lock and key to avoid the risk of identity theft. In the (admittedly unlikely) event that this information falls into the wrong hands, you could be prosecuted under the Data Protection Act.

You can pass the responsibility for right to rent checks on to you letting agent, but if you do, you must make sure you have a written agreement stating they will carry out these checks on your behalf.

This is all creating such a lot of extra hassle for landlords. The Government says that there are only a small number of illegal immigrants so I am wondering why putting tenants and landlords have got landed with all this extra bother?

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock


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