At least 2.6 million people a year could be subject to new immigration checks when the government’s ‘right to rent’ scheme is rolled out across England next month.
Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) analysis of the English Housing Survey has revealed that approximately 2.6 million adults moved into and within the private rented sector in 2013-14. CIH said the number of people who will be subject to the new checks each year could easily be double that figure, based on a conservative estimate that each letting will involve two households being checked.
Right to rent means that England’s 1.8 million private landlords will be required to check prospective tenants’ immigration status from 1 February – and due to increased penalties for non-compliance proposed in the Immigration Bill they could now face a jail sentence for getting it wrong.
CIH is warning that, faced with the potential scale of the task and the threat of a fine or even a jail sentence for failing to carry out the checks, landlords may simply discriminate against anyone they believe isn’t British, even if they have a legal right to live in the UK.
Research into the right to rent pilot scheme in the West Midlands by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that 42 per cent of landlords were unlikely to rent to those without British passports. And over 25 per cent would be less likely to rent to someone with a foreign name or foreign accent.
CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat said “For many people, private renting is the only option, and if this is removed homelessness and destitution may follow.”
“The new Housing and Planning Bill includes measures to tackle rogue landlords, which we have welcomed, but an unintended consequence of the Immigration Bill could be that more tenants are pushed towards the sorts of landlords who ask no questions and will rent poor quality accommodation to anyone who'll pay the rent. Before the checks are extended to all new lettings in England, it is therefore vital that landlords are given training in how to carry them out – but there is very little time in which to do this. The start should be postponed until this is done, otherwise both tenants and landlords could fall foul of the new requirements.”
Right to rent is due to be rolled out across England from 1 February 2016. Around 1.8 million landlords will be affected, 75 per cent of whom only own one to two properties. Less than 10 per cent are believed to be members of national bodies such as the Residential Landlords Association and the National Landlords Association and CIH has raised concerns about how the government will make sure all landlords are aware of the scheme before it comes into force.
Immigration checks can be very complex – if the tenant doesn't have an EU passport they could have any one of three dozen or more types of immigration document, or their paperwork could be with the Home Office. Right to rent has been piloted in the West Midlands and CIH has called for a second pilot to be carried out in a high-pressure area such as part of London before the scheme is rolled out nationally.
Terrie Alafat added “The roll-out must be based on a robust analysis of the evidence. And before that can take place, the government must ensure that landlords are up to speed with the different kinds of documentation they may be presented with, to combat the risk of discrimination against people who have every right to be in the UK.”