Close to two million buy-to-let property owners are to be made responsible for checking the immigration status of potential tenants. If one were to slip through the net and was discovered, the landlord responsible could face a fine running into thousands of pounds. It is part of an Immigration Bill which will limit the ability of European immigrants to claim benefits and includes measures to prevent criminals from exploiting the right to reside in Britain on the basis of family commitments.
The immediate accusation levelled at the government is that they are forcing ordinary people to take responsibility for policing the immigration system in the wake of now-defunct UK Border Agency’s failings, i.e., passing the buck. A wave of criticism has swept through the lettings industry, with the Residential Landlords Association acknowledging the need to enforce immigration laws, but warning that legally residing tenants will invariably suffer rent increases to cover the costs of further checks on tenants, as failing to do so could result in severe penalties.
Richard Jones, the RLA’s policy director, said, “Whilst the RLA fully supports measures to ensure everyone in the UK is legally allowed to be here, the announcement smacks of political posturing rather than a seriously thought through policy.
“The proposal will not work in practice. Employers have been required to make similar checks but it has made no real difference to the numbers of illegal immigrants in the country.
“For a government committed to reducing the burden of regulation, it is ironic that they are now seeking to impose a significant regulatory burden on landlords, making them scapegoats for the UK Border Agency’s failings.”
Stephen Thornton, director of external affairs at the RICS, said, “The Government has stubbornly refused to look at introducing better laws to protect both landlords and tenants – it is unacceptable that it expects the property industry to deliver its immigration policy.”
Landlords will be expected to seek copies of passports and appropriate visas. However, it is far from clear how landlords are expected to be able to establish the authenticity of the information given to them. Are they really deserving of a stiff fine for being guilty of nothing more than having been deceived?
Stephen Nation, head of lettings at Sequence, said, “If it’s to be the responsibility of all landlords to check passports and visas of foreign tenants, that will lead to questions about how equipped an amateur landlord is at carrying out and verifying these checks.
“These proposals are just passing off the onus of implementation of the Immigration Act on to landlords.”
David Brown, of LSL Property Services, pointed out that more rules forced upon landlords could have detrimental economic consequences, as people could well be put off investing in the industry when they otherwise would have.
Ajay Jagota, of KIS Lettings in the North-East, was also critical, saying, “How will you stop landlords being left in the ridiculous position of inadvertently discriminating on the grounds of race to be on the safe side?
“This already sounds like another poorly thought-out policy from a government which often looks like they’re making it up as they go along. Longer term I can see this proposal having all the impact of an inflatable hammer.
“As is so often the case with issues like this, the vast majority of responsible, sensible landlords will already be ensuring their tenants have a legal right to live in the UK, as deported tenants tend not to pay their rent. The dodgy landlords who don’t, still won’t.
“Of course immigration is a hugely important issue, as are landlords who put tenants in substandard properties and who line their pockets from people’s misery. This proposal does nothing to tackle any of those issues.”
There was one lone voice in the industry that spoke in favour of the new immigration laws. Caroline Kenny, executive of UKALA, said, “This is a logical step and one that will be positively received by the industry, demonstrating better regulation within the private rented sector.
“For the majority of letting agents, highlighting any immigration irregularities is already usual practice by undertaking thorough identity checks, including taking copies of prospective tenants’ passports, as well as work permits and resident visas where appropriate, which are then presented to their landlord clients for approval.”
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