What landlords need to know about the immigration checks coming into law

What landlords need to know about the new immigration checks for tenants coming into law

In the coming weeks landlords will increasingly need to know how to check whether a tenant lives in the UK legally. Property expert Kate Faulkner explains how the law is changing and what tenant checks you'll need to make.

The Immigration Bill received Royal Assent in May 2014, turning it into an Act, which means by law over the coming weeks landlords will increasingly need to make sure they know how to carry out the required checks on tenants. This is a check business owners already have to do when employing someone new, so these checks are simply being extended to private landlords whether you own one or more properties.

According to the latest Code of Practice just issued for landlords:

“Under section 22 of the Immigration Act 2014, a landlord must not authorise an adult to occupy property as their only or main home under a residential tenancy agreement unless the adult is a British citizen, or EEA or Swiss national, or has a “right to rent” in the UK.”

Why have the checks been introduced?

Most overseas students and others from overseas who are working in the UK are likely to rent in the private sector. This is causing two issues in the market. The first concern is that unscrupulous landlords are forcing illegal tenants into appalling accommodation, as illustrated by the “beds in sheds” scandal recently exposed. Secondly, without checks to ensure tenants from abroad are in the country legally, people who have no legal right to be in the UK, potentially ‘under the radar’, are being allowed to stay.

It’s hoped these tenant checks will improve matters for overseas tenants living legitimately in the UK, and also ensure that those who shouldn’t be here are more likely to have to head home.

Who needs to start making checks?

Over the last year or so, objections to the Act have been raised on the grounds that it shouldn’t be the job of a landlord (or letting agent) to ‘police’ our borders. So rather than implement the Act nationwide, the decision was made to trial the checks, initially in the West Midlands from the start of 1st December 2014. This area includes Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton. Once lessons from the pilot checks are learned, then all landlords and agents will need to carry them out. It’s expected that this will be made mandatory during 2015.

What will the ‘right to rent’ checks require?

According to the government, the required checks will be quite simple. To begin with, they aren’t retrospective; they apply only to new tenancies.

To comply with the new law, landlords (or if your property is managed, letting agents) will need to have proof in the form of documents which demonstrate that a tenant has a right to be living in the UK. This might be a copy of their passport, or a biometric residence permit. The latter is required as an extension to a visa, or if an overseas citizen wants to settle in the UK.

The checks are required for tenants whether they have a live-in landlord, or rent a whole property. If tenants are renting with a visa or other documentation which has to be renewed for them to remain in the UK, the landlord must check the renewal takes place too.

As a landlord you will need to retain:

  1. A record of the date on which the check was made.
  2. Copies of documentation secured.
  3. Information on checks made for at least one year after the tenancy agreement comes to an end.

A full list of acceptable documentation which can be used to make the checks is on pages 22-24 in the Code of practice on illegal immigrants and private rented accommodation.

What if the checks aren’t made?

If any tenants are found to be living in a landlord’s property having entered or remained in the country illegally, then the landlord could suffer a civil penalty of up to £3,000.

Where can you turn to for help and guidance?

If your property is managed by a letting agent who is a member of NALs, RICs or ARLA, they will most likely be carrying out these checks on your behalf already. It’s worth chatting to them and having them confirm, in writing, that they will take responsibility for running the checks on your tenants. If you don’t currently use a letting agent, or only use their ‘find a tenant’ service, it might be worth considering moving to full management.

However, if you’re happy to make the checks yourself, the government have promised to provide services to help you, including:

  • A Code of Practice about the civil penalty
  • Guidance via the Internet and a telephone helpline service: 0300 069 9799
  • A case-checking service for documents you have been given by tenants in cases where they have an outstanding immigration application
Landlord Insurance Kate Faulkner
Kate Faulkner

Kate Faulkner
Last Updated: 11 Nov 2014