New measures under the Immigration Act 2016, which came into play yesterday, will only be welcomed by those operating in the private rented sector if they achieve the central aim of ‘prosecuting and fining criminal landlords’ who are supplying substandard accommodation at inflated rents on the ‘peripheries of society’s radar’, according to David Cox, managing director, Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA).
The Right to Rent rules were introduced earlier this year requiring all landlords or their letting agents to make immigration checks before letting a property with a fine of up to £3,000 for failing to do so. But now there is a new set of tougher penalties.
New provisions set out by the Home Office have created four new criminal offences that extend the potential punishments to include a fine, up to five years in prison or both for persistent breaches or failure to take steps to remove illegal migrants from a property under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The law means that private landlords, including those who sub-let or take in lodgers, must now check the right of prospective tenants to be in the country to avoid being hit with a penalty.
“Enforcement is absolutely fundamental to this and sufficient resource must be devoted to following up applications to the landlord checking service which are refused, and ensuring that properties occupied by over stayers can be made available again as soon as possible,” said Cox.
A survey conducted last month by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) found that many Britons without a passport are struggling to secure private rented accommodation, largely due to the immigration checks introduced.
The study found that 43% of private landlords are less likely to let to those without a UK passport following the introduction of the Right to Rent scheme, introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 as part of the government’s reforms to build a fairer and more effective immigration system.
This means that the 17% of UK residents who do not have a passport could be wrongly denied access to privately rented accommodation.
The research also found that 63% of landlords are concerned that they will make a mistake or be caught out by forged documents and be unfairly fined. Only 13% reported having found the Home Office’s Advice Line helpful to them.
David Smith, policy director for the RLA, said: “These survey findings confirm our fears. Those who cannot easily prove their right to live in the UK, whether British or not, are finding it harder to access homes to rent. This is particularly concerning for those UK nationals without a passport, many of them the most vulnerable in society.
“Landlords are quite reasonably becoming ultra-cautious to avoid tough criminal sanctions and need reassurance that they will not be punished when they get fooled by false documents. They are not trained immigration officers.”