Serious question marks have been raised by MPs over government plans, outlined in the Queen’s Speech, to make private landlords legally responsible for checking the immigration status of tenants.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the Commons that the scheme would be unworkable.
In a debate on the Queen’s Speech, Cooper – a former housing minister – said: “The Government cannot tell us how their policy will be enforced, because they do not know who the landlords are and they will not have a statutory register.”
Slough Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart also said the scheme would be unworkable partly because of the lack of register of private landlords, and partly because papers proving someone’s immigration status “are stuck in the Home Office. I am not sure how a landlord is supposed to be able to prove to their own satisfaction whether someone in qualified or not.”
She went on to say that the move would “increase the number of people whom landlords have a duty to discriminate against.”
She said: “In order to operate the proposal sensibly, it will probably require a register of landlords, which I would enthusiastically accept, because I am concerned about a number of issues with regard to private landlords.
“At present, private landlords in Slough habitually say that they do not want tenants on housing benefit, but in my view that is discriminatory: it discriminates against disabled people, who are substantially more likely than anybody else to depend on housing benefit.
“Lawyers have told me that it would be impossible to bring a case of disability discrimination, partly because landlords are not big institutions and because of the costs involved.
“If we increase the number of people whom landlords have a duty to discriminate against, we will create a society in which the excluded will number not just those with a suspect immigration status, but those with a perfectly secure immigration status.”
Another Labour MP, Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), said: “I remember that two or three years ago we were told that a national register for landlords would be impossible. It would be too bureaucratic and difficult for the landlords, and would add red tape to the work that they already did, yet now we are told that landlords are expected to be almost the main body policing the system of immigration by identifying illegal tenants.
“It is nonsense that on the one hand the Government can say it is too bureaucratic to do that, and on the other they can pass the buck straight on to landlords.”
The criticisms were not confined to Labour. Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert (Cambridge) said: “I do not mind if a landlord has to enter a passport number and name on a computer and gets an answer – I can live with that – but if they all are expected to become experts in immigration law, we should be aware that that simply will not happen. I look forward to seeing how the system will work.”
Meanwhile, a law firm has warned that some landlords could face ruin because of the new immigration requirements, and that ‘accidental landlords’ will struggle to cope.
Eddie Goldsmith, of Goldsmith Williams, said the proposals are potentially ruinous for those landlords whose businesses are centred on immigrant tenants, and will be a burden for all.
He said: “It seems to me that landlords already have a heavy burden of regulation to comply with and this is now set to increase.
“In my own firm where we offer a specialist service for the amateur and accidental landlords, we find many are unaware of the extent of the legal obligations they need to comply with already – indeed there are literally hundreds of existing government and local authority regulations.
“Many landlords are surprised by some of their obligations such as compliance with The Plugs and Sockets (Safety) Regulations 1994 requiring them to ensure live and neutral pins on plugs are part insulated so as to prevent shocks when removing plugs from sockets for example.
“Now it seems the Government expect landlords to also take on some aspects of the role of the Border Agency, and although the implementation of this is not yet clear, we know it is likely to involve landlords checking passports and visas, and that failure to comply could result in fines of thousands of pounds. Furthermore, it is unclear how landlords are expected to establish the authenticity of the information.
“What is clear, however, is that these new measures will be onerous for all landlords but particularly those whose business model is focused on tenants who are immigrants. For them the effect of this new legislation could be financially ruinous.”