The UK Government has issued a press release confirming that the Right to Rent scheme under the Immigration Act 2014 (‘IA 2014’) will be extended across the whole of England. As part of the scheme’s phased introduction, Right to Rent has been piloted in the West Midlands since 1 December 2014. However, from 1 February 2016 allprivate landlords will have to check whether prospective tenants have the right to occupy their premises before granting a tenancy.

The intention of the scheme is to prevent those unlawfully in the UK from accessing housing; therefore Right to Rent is based on immigration status. Under the IA 2014, landlords must ensure that prospective tenants are not disqualified from occupying their property. A person will be ‘disqualified’ if they are not a:

  • British citizen
  • National of an EEA State;
  • National of Switzerland; and
  • Do not have the right to rent in relation to the premises.

A tenant will not have the right to rent if they require leave to enter or remain in the UK and do not have it, or they have obtained leave but it is subject to conditions that prevent them from occupying the premises. Landlords must also ensure that someone’s right to occupy does not lapse.

It is vital that landlords carry out these checks as breach of the prohibitions could result in civil penalties of up to £3,000 per tenant. Additionally, the Immigration Bill 2015/16 creates four new criminal offences aimed at rogue landlords who continuously rent to illegal migrants. Offenders are at the risk of facing fines, imprisonment and further sanctions under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

In order to avoid liability landlords must:

  • Obtain original versions of one or more acceptable documents (for example, a UK/EEA passport, national identity card or permanent residence card);
  • Check the document’s validity in the presence of the prospective tenant holder;
  • Make and retain clear copies;
  • Record the date the immigration check was made.

Importantly, landlords will also need to notify any concerns to the Home Office and ensure that their immigration checks do not flout anti-discrimination laws. If landlords do not deal with tenants directly then they may pass on these obligations to agents if agreed in writing.

The Government has released Home Office: A short guide for landlords on right to rent which contains guidance on how to carry out initial checks and when repeat checks are required. The Home Office has also issued codes of practice and offers an online checking tool and a free telephone enquiry service.

For many landlords, immigration checks will already be conducted as a matter of routine. If not, the scheme should be relatively simple and easy to implement. Landlords should also be weary of private companies offering bespoke immigration checks that are carried out on their behalf.

It will be interesting to see whether these provisions help crack down on unscrupulous landlords who exploit migrants. What is almost certain is that the Right to Rent scheme will make it more difficult for those with no right to be in the UK to rent private accommodation.