Right to Rent will affect every landlord in England from February 1st, so if you don’t know what it is and why it’s important, read on.
For every new tenancy starting on or after February 1st, landlords (or their agents) will have to check that the tenant and every adult living with them in the property has a legal right to be in the UK.
That means checking their passport or some other form of photo ID and, if they aren’t a national of a country within the European Economic Area or Switzerland, making sure they have been granted unlimited or time-limited leave to remain in the UK.
In most cases, this will mean verifying they have a valid document (i.e permit/visa) issued by the Home Office.
To avoid accusations of race discrimination, you’ll need to check the ID of every new tenant, although there’s no requirement to check children, even if they turn 18 during the tenancy and tenants who moved in before Feb 1 are also exempt.
These checks must be carried out before the start of the tenancy agreement but no more than 28 days in advance for anyone who doesn’t have a right to live here permanently.
You can find examples of acceptable ID here.
Failure to check a tenant’s right to rent could result in a fine of up to £3,000 and even a prison sentence if you’re found to be housing an illegal immigrant.
To comply with the new rules, which were incorporated into Section 22 of the Immigration Act last year, landlords must see a copy of the tenant’s original photo ID and any necessary permits in the tenant’s presence.
So, right now you’re probably thinking “hang on a minute, I’m not an immigration official, how do I know who needs a permit and what a valid permit looks like?”
This is a fair point and we feel your pain. We don’t believe landlords should be responsible for policing immigration and we don’t think these new measures will work. Instead, illegal immigrants will simply end up renting from the sort of landlords who couldn’t care less about the law.
However, for those of us who do want to stay on the right side of the prison walls, the Home Office has set up Landlords Checking Service, which (it says) will make it easy for us to verify a tenant’s right to rent online. You have to fill in a form with your tenant’s details and you should get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ within two days. If you don’t, you’ll be sent an automated email allowing you to grant the tenancy anyway.
Obviously, Right to Rent creates a problem for landlords securing overseas tenants, including foreign students, before they arrive in the UK, as they won’t be able to verity the documentation in the tenant’s presence.
In these circumstances, the law allows for a tenancy agreement to be issued prior to the checks taking place, as long as they are completed before the tenant moves in.
However, it would be unwise for landlords to sign a legally-binding tenancy agreement until they have checked a tenant’s right to rent, otherwise they could end up in the bizarre situation of being forced to evict them.
A way round this might be to ask the tenant to send copies of their documentation and, if everything looks in order, agreeing to the tenancy in principle subject to ID checks being satisfactorily completed when they arrive.
You must take a copy of any new tenant’s documentation, in a format which can’t be altered, write the date it was checked, and keep it for a year after the end of the tenancy. To avoid the hassle of taking photocopies yourself, you could ask the tenant to provide their own, but make sure you check it with the original.
When a tenant’s visa is due to expire, it will be your responsibility to check it has been renewed if they intend to remain in England. If not, you’ll have to report them to the Home Office.
A further problem is that we must keep all copies of tenant’s ID for a year after the end of the tenancy. To protect the tenant’s ID, they must be stored safely, for example in a locked filing cabinet or on a password protected computer. When the year is up, they must be destroyed.
If you need to send copies to a third party, you really ought to be registered as a data controller to make sure you keep the tenant’s ID safe.
Don’t worry though, despite all the Government’s tough talk on fines and jail sentences for landlords who house illegal immigrants, it has promised not to come down hard on anyone who can prove they have done their best to carry out adequate checks.
It has also made it clear that where a tenant sub-lets, it will be their responsibility to carry out the Right to Rent checks unless the landlord has stated in writing that they will take on this role.Right to rent is a right pain in the neck, but hopefully if you follow the above steps it should prove to be nothing more than yet another irritation. For more information, go to Right to Rent Immigration checks: landlord's code of practice on the Home Office website or call the Home Office Helpline on 0300 069 9799.