MP’s Question Immigration Checks By Landlords
The Governments plan to make private rented sector (PRS) and social housing landlords legally responsible for checking the immigration status of all tenant applicants has raised questions on the policy from MP’s.
The proposal to make landlords perform immigration checks on tenants and prosecute those who fail to comply has caused outrage among UK PRS landlords, who would be expected to be doing the UK Border Agency’s work without payment.
Following the outline of the new proposals, Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, a former housing minister, told the House of Commons during a lively debate on the Queens speech that landlords performing immigration checks on tenants would be unworkable, stating that: “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.”
Labour MP for Slough, Fiona Mactaggart also said “The scheme would be unworkable partly because of the lack of register of private landlords, and partly because papers proving a tenant’s immigration status are stuck in the Home Office. I am not sure how a landlord doing an immigration check is supposed to be able to prove to their own satisfaction whether someone in qualified or not. The move would increase the number of people whom landlords have a duty to discriminate against. 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.”
Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert 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.”
The Government had previously decided against the introduction of a national register of all UK PRS landlords because it would increase the workload that the civil service would have to administrate and also increase the amount of bureaucracy and red tape landlords had to deal with. Instead the new proposals not only increase the responsibility, by expecting landlords to perform immigration checks on tenants, they also increase a landlord’s liability with the threat of financial penalty for non compliance.
Legal 4 Landlords spokesman, Sim Sekhon commented on the Government proposals and subsequent debate among MP’s stating: “The Government proposals to have PRS and social housing landlords vet the immigration status of all tenant applicants do appear to be both unreasonable and unworkable at this early stage. MP’s are as worried about the proposal as much as landlords are, currently Tenant Referencing enables landlords, letting agents and property management agents with the ability to quantify information supplied by a tenant applicant, including amongst other details, verifying an applicant’s identity, employment status and financial position, however it will not be able to disclose the immigration status of applicants to landlords or referencing agencies as there is currently no access to Home Office or UK Border Agency databases.”
Eddie Goldsmith, of Goldsmith Williams warned that some landlords could face ruin because of the new immigration requirements, and that some landlords will struggle to cope. He said:“The proposals are potentially ruinous for those landlords whose businesses are centred on immigrant tenants, and will be a burden for all. The Government expect landlords to take on some aspects of the role of the UK 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.”
The Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) has warned that whilst immigration rules need to be enforced effectively, the reality is that tenants living in the UK legally will see rents rise as letting agents ramp up fees to cover the costs of further checks on tenants and to cover the greater risks new laws will bring. Such costs will inevitably be borne by tenants paying rents.
Commenting on the Government proposals for immigration checks to be conducted by landlords, 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, today’s 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. Greater risks will be associated with renting a property out at just the time that we need to make investment in the sector far more attractive. We will study the details of the proposals carefully and seek to have input during the passage of the Bill to ensure that the imposition on landlords and costs for tenants are minimised.”
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