The controversial Right to Rent scheme has affected fresh criticism on the day it goes live.
From today, 1 February, landlords are required to check a tenant’s immigration status before granting a tenancy and risk fines of up to £3,000 if they let to someone without the right to live in the UK.
However, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) claims more than 90% of landlords have received no information from the Government on their new legal duty to check the immigration status of their tenants.
According to a survey of more than 1,500 landlords, carried out by the RLA, the lack of information from the Government is leading to confusion about how landlords are expected to carry out the checks.
The survey found that that 72% of landlords do not understand their obligations under the policy, designed to make the country a more hostile environment for illegal immigrants.
The result will be that many landlords are unlikely to rent to those who cannot easily prove their right of residency. The survey also found that 44% of landlords will only rent to those with documents that are familiar to them: this will cause serious problems for the estimated 17% of UK nationals without a passport. This is likely to be a higher proportion of young people and the less well off.
The RLA is calling on the Government to undertake a more thorough evaluation of the impact of this policy in the West Midlands where it has been piloted, before rushing into rolling it out across the country.
The evaluation of the pilot scheme noted that there was only “limited evidence” that it was deterring illegal immigrants from seeking to access rental housing.
Commenting, Dr David Smith, Policy Director for the RLA said: “The Government argues that it’s ‘right to rent’ plans form part of a package to make the UK a more hostile environment for illegal immigrants. The evidence shows that it is creating a more hostile environment for good landlords and legitimate tenants.
“Landlords are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Fearful of a fine they face two difficult ways forward. They can play it safe, and take a restrictive view with prospective tenants, potentially causing difficulties for the 12 million UK citizens without a passport. Alternatively, they may target certain individuals to conduct the checks, opening themselves up to accusations of racism.
“The Government’s own evaluation of its pilot scheme noted that there was only limited evidence that the policy is achieving its objectives. Given the considerable problems it will create for tenant-landlord relations it’s time for the Government to think again.”
Meanwhile figures obtained from the Home Office by law firm Simpson Millar show that just nine civil penalties were issued to landlords under the Right to Rent pilot between 1 December 2014 and 19 November 2015.
Six fines were issued to landlords of properties in Birmingham, two in Sandwell and one in Dudley. The pilot covered the city of Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton.
“Given that the pilot covered an area with more than 2 million people it is hard to see how the scheme has had any significant financial impact at all. Rather, it has the potential to create a culture of fear and discrimination,” says Sumita Gupta, head of immigration at Simpson Millar in Manchester.
“There will be rogue landlords who won’t care about undertaking the required document checks; they could view this new scheme as an opportunity to exploit a very vulnerable group of people who might otherwise find it difficult to secure accommodation and end up homeless.”