Government plans to make private landlords responsible for checking the status of potential tenants has been attacked by a number of MPs, including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper. In a debate on the Queen’s Speech, she told the Commons, “The Government cannot tell us how their policy will be enforced, because they do not know who the landlords are and they will not have a statutory register.”
Susan Elan Jones, Labour MP for Clwyd South, said, “I remember that two or three years ago we were told that a national register for landlords would be impossible. It would be too bureaucratic and difficult for the landlords, and would add red tape to the work that they already did, yet now we are told that landlords are expected to be almost the main body policing the system of immigration by identifying illegal tenants.
“It is nonsense that on the one hand the Government can say it is too bureaucratic to do that, and on the other they can pass the buck straight on to landlords.”
Another Labour MP, Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) agreed that the scheme would be unworkable, due in part to the lack of a register of private landlords, and also because the relevant papers proving someone’s immigrant status are locked away in the Home Office, making it practically impossible for a landlord to be 100% certain one way or the other. As a result of the difficulties that arise, she says that landlords will, in a bid to protect themselves, find themselves discriminating against increasing numbers of people.
She went on to say, “In order to operate the proposal sensibly, it will probably require a register of landlords, which I would enthusiastically accept, because I am concerned about a number of issues with regard to private landlords.
“At present, private landlords in Slough habitually say that they do not want tenants on housing benefit, but in my view that is discriminatory: it discriminates against disabled people, who are substantially more likely than anybody else to depend on housing benefit.
“Lawyers have told me that it would be impossible to bring a case of disability discrimination, partly because landlords are not big institutions and because of the costs involved.
“If we increase the number of people whom landlords have a duty to discriminate against, we will create a society in which the excluded will number not just those with a suspect immigration status, but those with a perfectly secure immigration status.”
The Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert also voiced his concern. He said, “I do not mind if a landlord has to enter a passport number and name on a computer and gets an answer – I can live with that – but if they all are expected to become experts in immigration law, we should be aware that that simply will not happen. I look forward to seeing how the system will work.”
But criticism is not confined to the Commons and industry bodies. Eddie Goldsmith, of law firm Goldsmith Williams, believes that the proposals are potentially ruinous for some landlords. It will add to the very large number of legal obligations landlords are required to comply with and make things even more difficult than they already are for amateur and accidental landlords.
He said, “Now it seems the Government expect landlords to also take on some aspects of the role of the Border Agency, and although the implementation of this is not yet clear, we know it is likely to involve landlords checking passports and visas, and that failure to comply could result in fines of thousands of pounds. Furthermore, it is unclear how landlords are expected to establish the authenticity of the information.
“What is clear, however, is that these new measures will be onerous for all landlords but particularly those whose business model is focused on tenants who are immigrants. For them the effect of this new legislation could be financially ruinous.”
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