The British Property Federation (BPF) has warned that proposals which could see landlords prosecuted for failing to carry out immigration checks are flawed.
Under the Home Office proposals, landlords would have to conduct ongoing checks on their tenants’ immigration status, and face a civil penalty if they rent a property to an illegal immigrant.
However, the BPF says the plan would mean landlords would be prosecuted for failing to recognise complex immigration documents that even skilled border control staff take time to check accurately. To date, no research has been taken to check landlords are up to that task.
The BPF stresses that the policy should only proceed on the basis of such research being undertaken, or after a pilot phase.
It has called for a number of reforms to the proposals, including:
• To reduce the proportion of people checked, for example, introducing a simplified test for students, who already face additional immigration checks.
• Landlords should not have to check a tenant’s on-going visa status.
• Instead, introduce a voluntary whistle blowing system for landlords to report those who are overstaying.
• Introduce a two week compliance period before landlords are open to prosecution – to expect instant compliance on occupancy was unrealistic in various scenarios and would put undue strain on the proposed real-time helpline.
• Sunset the regulations after three years, so they could only continue with Parliament’s approval, if they proved effective.
• For Parliament to scrutinise the resource behind the proposed “real time” helpline and budget for communicating these new rules to everyone likely to rent out, or live in, a private rented sector property in this country.
Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, said: “We need to make sure these regulations are effective. It is a lot of effort to go if they are not. Landlords are not skilled immigration officers and their recognition of documents beyond the standard UK passport and birth certificate will not be high.
“Would your average man in the street know what a naturalisation certificate looks like, or right of abode certificate, or the passport of any country in the world? It takes skilled border control staff time to check the paperwork and credentials of those migrating from outside Europe and doesn’t suggest that the unskilled eye will find this easy. It would be reckless to proceed with these proposals without testing this central assumption that landlords will recognise a wide array of documents.”