New measures requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants started to come into force on 1 December. CIH policy adviser John Perry explains why we are working with a range of organisations to assess the impact.
The question in the title of this blog was posed by ‘accidental landlord’ Victoria Whitlock in the Evening Standard last week. It’s her response to finding that she might soon have to ask budding tenants for their immigration papers. As she says, on pain of a possible £3,000 fine, “landlords who have absolutely no training or experience of the immigration system will be responsible for checking. . . their tenants are legally entitled to live in Britain.”
Fortunately for Ms Whitlock, the legal requirement and the fines only apply at the moment in parts of the West Midlands, where the Home Office’s oddly named ‘Right to Rent’ scheme began last week. Although aimed at preventing ‘illegal migrants’ from renting in the private sector, the rules affect social landlords in three ways. First, they apply to housing associations if they let homes outside local authority nomination schemes. Second, they apply to all tenants who take in lodgers, who are also now in the position described by the Evening Standard’s ‘accidental landlord’. Third, anyone providing advice services is bound to start getting queries about how tenants comply with the new rules and what happens if landlords discriminate against them.
So while this is a worry for landlords, it’s an even bigger one for potential tenants. They have to be able to show their right to live in the UK, and if they haven’t got a passport (possibly with the right stamp in it) they’ll need to do it with other documents and hope the landlord has the patience to check them, make copies and if necessary contact the Home Office for further help. Most advice agencies think the people worst affected will be legitimate migrants, especially those who haven’t got their papers for perfectly understandable reasons (e.g. they’re with the Home Office). But it’s also bound to affect people who landlords believe not to be British. Or even, as the Evening Standard says, simply British people who haven’t got a passport and don’t know where their birth certificate is. Possibly least affected will be undocumented (or what the Home Office calls ‘illegal’) migrants, as they probably already have to use the sorts of landlords who ask no questions and will rent poor quality accommodation to anyone who’ll pay the rent.
The Chartered Institute of Housing opposed the immigration checks before they became law, and now that they are being phased in we want to ensure that social landlords and advice bodies are aware of them and their possible effects. We’ve already published a free briefing on the practical implications. From early next month, the housing rights website, run by CIH and BMENational, will have new pages on the private rented sector which will include detailed guidance on immigration checks.
We are also working with a range of other bodies to evaluate their effects. In the West Midlands, those advising prospective tenants are asked to get them to fill in an online questionnaire where they can record what happens to them. There’s an explanation of the survey and a link to the questions here. If you work in one of the local authority areas affected – Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton – do please look at the available material and help monitor the effects of the scheme.
The Home Office is itself going to evaluate ‘Right to Rent’ and has promised to consider and publish its findings before the scheme is rolled out nationally. However, the prime minister, speaking in the West Midlands as the scheme began, said he wants it rolled out ‘rapidly’. It’s very important, therefore, that housing organisations find out about how the scheme is working in the five local authorities and have evidence available to show the problems it seems likely to produce. CIH plans to do just that, and would welcome help from frontline staff especially those who have information from prospective private tenants on how they have been affected and – especially – whether they have experienced any discrimination or been prevented from renting when they are fully entitled to be in the UK.
Original post: Chartered Institute of Housing