Wiltshire landlords required to carry out immigration checks on tenants under new law

By Anita Jaynes on 14 January, 2016

Landlords of privately-rented residential accommodation in Wiltshire who fail to check the immigration status of new tenants before letting their property could face financial penalties if the occupier does not have the right to be in the UK.

From 1 February 2016, private landlords and letting agents in England will have to request original ‘right to rent’ documents from prospective and, in some cases, actual tenants which show their entitlement to be in the country.

Under the new law, it will not be not be enough for residential tenancy agreements to simply include a prohibition against occupation by those who are not entitled to be in the UK. If a tenant is a non-EEA national with a time limit on their stay in the UK, the landlord and/or agent must make repeat checks.

Any landlord or agent who fails to carry out document checks could face penalties of up to £3,000 in respect of each disqualified person allowed to occupy premises as their only or main home.

The Government’s ‘right to rent’ programme, which is being rolled out across the country following a successful pilot scheme for landlords and letting agents in the West Midlands, aims to make it harder for illegal migrants to stay in the UK.

Andrew Dekany, employment and immigration partner at leading commercial law firm Thrings, said: “The new ‘right to rent’ initiative is one of a host of changes brought about by the Immigration Act 2014, and forms part of the Government’s drive to make the environment less welcoming for illegal migrants.

“The legislation places an onus on landlords and agents to be more proactive and to carry out checks on – and keep records of – identity documents of every adult occupier aged 18 and over before offering a tenancy agreement.

“If a prospective tenant cannot produce satisfactory documents, or if the documents are regarded by the landlord and/or agent as a possible forgery, they will be expected not to let to that individual.”

James Brokenshire, Minister for Immigration at the Home Office, has described the checks as “quick and simple”, adding that “many responsible landlords already do them as a matter of routine.”

Meanwhile the Home Office is offering a free Landlords Checking Service to help landlords and agents carry out the necessary checks on tenants’ documents in order to avoid potentially troublesome and expensive enforcement action later on.

Andrew added: “The Chartered Institute of Housing estimates that right to rent checks will need to be carried out on at least 2.6m people per year. The Government is not expecting landlords and letting agents to have the skill and knowledge of UK immigration officers. They may need assistance in dealing with more complex areas.

“For example, landlords and letting agents are not allowed to discriminate directly or indirectly on grounds of a prospective tenant’s nationality, race or religion. There is also the whole question of how to shift the risk of a civil penalty where more than one person is potentially responsible for the right to rent checks.

“Employers and banks already have to check the immigration status of individuals before allowing them to start work or open a new current account respectively, so the concept is not a new one. Moreover, the introduction of the immigration checks has been known since last year’s Queen’s Speech, so landlords and letting agents have had sufficient time to prepare. Shutting their eyes to the new legislation is therefore not an option.”

Nearly all residential tenancy agreements are covered by the new scheme, although certain types of accommodation – including care homes, tied accommodation, specified student accommodation and certain short-term holiday lets – are excluded.

For more information about the new legislation, click here. To download Andrew Dekany’s top tips to help private landlords and letting agents safeguard their business, click here.

Pictured above: Thrings partner Andrew Dekany