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Right to Rent - one year on

Posted on 2017-03-02

It's now been just over a year since the Right to Rent scheme was introduced in England. For the past 12 months it's been a legal requirement for landlords - or their letting agents - to check that prospective tenants have the right to rent in England.

With plans to roll the scheme out to the rest of the UK, we take a look at the first year of Right to Rent and how it’s affected landlords, letting agents and tenants.

Has it been a success?

The Government would probably say that, in its first year, the Right to Rent scheme has been a success. The majority of landlords and letting agents seem to have taken the legislation in their stride and there have been relatively few reports highlighting discrimination - something which was most feared in the lead up to the scheme's implementation.

In early February, Robert Goodwill MP - an immigration minister - revealed that a total of 91 landlords were issued with civil penalties for non-compliance during the first year of Right to Rent. The offending landlords were fined a total of almost £30,000 and the Home Office had to deal with almost 700 enquiries made to its checking service.

He confirmed that all landlords fined - as well as the 15 fined during the pilot stage - were first-time offenders. Some 55 of the total offences during the preceding pilot scheme, and since February 1 2016, related to lodgers in private households, while the remaining 51 related to occupiers in rental accommodation.

Coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the scheme, there have been a number of reports drawing attention to its supposed failings.

For example, the StudentTenant website recently claimed that immigration checks have caused discrimination against foreign renters. It reported that 23% of student landlords said they’re less likely to consider non-British tenants due to Right to Rent.

What’s more, The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said that Brits without passports, as well as foreigners, are finding it hard to rent properties. The organisation reported that 51% of agents and landlords it surveyed said Right to Rent had made them less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals.

One senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Housing - John Perry - has also claimed that the Government’s largely unaware of the impact Right to Rent has had in England. Perry suggested that the scheme shouldn’t be rolled out to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in its current form.

We also asked landlords and tenants for their opinion on the Right to Rent scheme. Just 4.4% of 3,276 landlords we surveyed rated immigration checks as their biggest concern. Meanwhile, just under 30% of 20,000 tenants told us that they agreed with the principle of the Right to Rent scheme. Only 6% said they disagreed with the policy, while around 64% said they had no opinion - which could highlight a lack of awareness and education issues.

Are all stakeholders aware of Right to Rent?

One of the biggest challenges faced by the Right to Rent scheme in the lead up to its implementation was raising awareness among those who were due to be affected by it. So, after 12 months, are most landlords, letting agents and tenants aware of Right to Rent and what it entails?

Our research suggests that the majority of landlords - around 71% - are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to immigration checks. However, 21% of the 3,700 landlords surveyed said they were unsure and 8% said they weren't aware of their responsibilities. It’s quite surprising that approximately 30% of the landlords we spoke to are still not crystal clear on what’s expected of them.

It seems that a high proportion of landlords are handing Right to Rent checks over to their letting agents - some 72% of participants in our survey indicated that agents were carrying out immigration checks on their behalf, helping them to stay compliant. Meanwhile, 23% of landlords said they were carrying out checks themselves, and 5% said they used someone other than a letting agent to look after Right to Rent checks.

When it comes to tenants, 32% of the 20,000 we surveyed said they were aware of having a Right to Rent check before they moved in to a rental property. What's more, 36% of renters surveyed indicated that their landlord or agent asked to see documentation in order to carry out a Right to Rent check. Some 27% couldn't remember, a further 27% said they weren’t asked for documentation and 10% moved in prior to February 2016 and so didn’t have to prove their immigration status – as the scheme hadn’t yet been rolled out.

In terms of tenant awareness, 46% of renters indicated that they knew they had to prove their right to reside in the UK, while 49% were unaware. The remaining 5% did not live in England and so are currently unaffected by the legislation.

Year one timeline

- February 1 2016: Right to Rent scheme begins in England
- February 2016: Government updates How to Rent booklet with Right to Rent details
- April 2016: MPs confirm relaxation of criminal sanctions for non-compliance with Right to Rent
- July 2016: Guidelines are clarified for immigration checks on overseas students
- August 2016: New form made available for landlords to transfer responsibility to letting agents
- December 1 2016: Criminal sanctions for non-compliance with Right to Rent come into force
- February 1 2017: One-year anniversary of Right to Rent scheme in England
- February 2017: MP reveals that 91 landlords received civil penalties in first year of Right to Rent

Is Right to Rent here to stay?

Although it can’t be said for definite, the most likely answer to this question is probably 'yes'. Since Right to Rent's introduction, the controversy surrounding it has been minimal and most research seems to suggest that the majority of landlords and agents have seamlessly added immigration checks into their pre-tenancy processes.

It seems highly unlikely that the Government would move to abolish the scheme before the next General Election in 2020 so it's important for landlords to remain compliant and look out for any updates or changes made to the Right to Rent scheme.

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