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Immigration checks – national rollout update

Posted on 2015-07-23

The introduction of immigration checks on tenants – otherwise known as the Right to Rent scheme – has made plenty of headlines over the past year.

The system will require landlords to see a prospective tenant's passport or biometric residence permit to determine whether or not they are legally eligible to rent property in the UK.

Although landlords are ultimately responsible for checking their tenants' eligibility to rent here, their letting agents could quite easily become involved. Landlords have the right to defer the work to their agent as part of their professional agreement by specifically stating in writing that they want their agent to carry out the checks.

A pilot scheme of the project got underway in the West Midlands in December with a national rollout expected in the spring.

With the change of government in May, and a good six months since the pilot scheme had begun, many predicted that the date for the national scheme would by now be set. However, as we now move into August, there remains nothing set in stone.

Since our last update, published in April, there have been a few developments…

Towards the end of June, the National Landlords Association (NLA) confirmed that it had met with James Brokenshire, the Immigration Minister, to discuss Right to Rent.

The upshot of the meeting, according to the NLA, was that the implementation of the national policy would be determined in July after the results of the pilot project had been assessed. However, as we now move towards the end of July, there is still no word on the national scheme.

Other information reported by the NLA after its meeting included that the scheme is likely to be phased in area by area, rather than all at once and that it may not end up applying throughout the whole of the UK.

The Association's meeting also provided some interesting figures. Up until the end of June, the West Midlands pilot scheme generated over 900 calls to the Home Office, 114 of which were relating to cases where tenants were unable to verify their immigration status. The pilot scheme also attracted a total of 36,000 visits to guidance pages on the Home Office website as well as 75 referrals.

The NLA also confirmed that it will be helping the Home Office to draft guidance for agents and landlords who are faced with tenants that do not have a right to rent in the UK.

Also in June, a legal consultancy specialising in property launched a public criticism of the scheme, labelling it as 'disproportionate' and 'unworkable'.

Daniel Watney LLP also raised the question of short-term lets, stating that professional landlords have not been left on a level playing field with those using short-term sites such as Airbnb, who appear not to be subject to Right to Rent requirements.

The firm's Head of Residential, Julian Goddard, says that landlords and letting agents are unlikely to know the difference between a real and fake visa due to not being qualified immigration enforcement officers.

One of the most significant revelations concerning the pilot scheme emerged in a report from the Daily Telegraph, which claimed that the West Midlands project resulted in just one fine in its first six months.

One landlord was hit with a £2,000 fine, according to the newspaper.

The paper's report reiterated the sentiments of many property industry commentators that the scheme is likely to go national later this year and that the Government is committed to analysing the full extent of the pilot scheme before making its next move.

So, three months on from our last report, it seems we are not really any closer to finding out exactly when landlords and agents from all over the country will be checking tenants' immigration status on a regular basis.

However, as the West Midlands pilot scheme has shown with just one fine being issued, many letting agents and landlords will be able to take on the new system seamlessly and efficiently. Many still anticipate a date to be announced for later this year, though, so it is wise for all involved to get ready to embrace the Right to Rent scheme.

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