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Ministers warned they must water down rental checks on immigrants

Ministers warned they must water down rental checks on immigrants

Ministers have been told in no uncertain terms to water down their proposals to make landlords, or their agents, responsible for checking the immigration status of prospective tenants.

The current Home Office proposals will force landlords to take responsibility for checking all prospective tenants’ documentation for their permission to be in the UK, and conduct ongoing checks on their status. If they fail to take such steps, they will face a civil penalty if they rent to an illegal immigrant.

Many landlords will simply hand over the responsibility to their agents – with the concern that it will be tenants ultimately having to foot the bill, whether in higher fees or rents.

According to the British Property Federation, every tenant, including all UK citizens, will have be checked at a cost of £156.5m over three years.

The BPF is warning that the proposals could see landlords prosecuted for failing to recognise complex immigration documents. The BPF says the proposals are disproportionate in their current form, and likely to prove ineffective in terms of identifying illegal immigrants.
 
The BPF says that even skilled border control staff take time to check immigration documents accurately, and that no research had been undertaken on whether 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.
 
The BPF has called for a number of reforms to the proposals, including omitting student tenants because they already face additional immigration checks. It also says landlords should not have to keep tabs on a tenant’s ongoing visa status.

Instead, it says there should be a voluntary whistle-blowing system for the reporting of tenants who are over-staying in the UK.

The BPF is also calling for a two-week compliance period before prosecutions of landlords, and for the proposed new regulations to be ‘sunsetted’ after three years – in other words, only continue with Parliamentary approval if they have proved effective.

It also wants Parliament to scrutinise the resources 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 to 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.
 
“As things stand, landlords will be open to prosecution immediately on occupancy. What happens if they cannot access the website, or the real-time helpline does not respond? We suggest a fairer a solution would be to allow a compliance period of two weeks to allow landlords to check and record documents.
 
“The Government has said it will consider ways of making these regulations as light-touch as possible and we hope that they will consider a different check for students, who already face significant additional checks as part of their application process.”