Landlords could face prison under new immigration laws

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The controversial Immigration Bill 2015, which is currently under scrutiny in the House of Commons, will introduce stiffer penalties to landlords who fail check the immigration status of their tenants under the ‘right to rent’ checks that will be rolled out across England on February 1 2016.

Background – the West Midlands ‘right to rent’ pilot

Sections 22 and 23 of the Immigration Act 2014 forbid landlords from letting properties to adults who are disqualified from living in the UK as a result of their immigration status. Flouting the law could mean penalty notices for a sum of up to £3,000.

This was brought into law on 1 December 2014 in five local authorities in the West Midlands. The intention was to pilot the new ‘right to rent’ checks prior to their introduction across the whole country.

On 20 October, the government announced that right to rent checks would be introduced to landlords in the whole of England from February 1 2016: www.gov.uk/government/news/right-to-rent-checks-introduced-for-landlords-in-england

Failing to conduct checks could become a criminal offence

Under the new Immigration Bill 2015–16, however, the penalties would become more severe: landlords who allow disqualified adults to occupy their properties would be guilty of a criminal offence.

The Bill, which was subject to its first Parliamentary debate on 13 October and is currently under review by a Public Bill Committee, could see landlords and agents both fined and imprisoned for a term of up to 12 months on summary conviction, or five years on indictment.

New accelerated possession process for illegal tenants

While the new laws penalise landlords heavily for failing to meet their new obligations, they also make it easier to evict tenants who are in the UK illegally.

If they receive written notice from the Secretary of State advising them that all of the occupants of their property are disqualified from living in the UK on the grounds of their immigration status, landlords will be able to terminate the tenancy with 28 days’ notice.

In addition, the Bill will add a new ground 7B to section 8 eviction notices that will allow landlords to evict tenants whose immigration status disqualifies them from living in the UK.

Public Bill Committee

During the committee stage, a bill that began in the House of Commons is examined in detail and amended by a group of MPs. During this stage, the committee can receive evidence from non-parliamentary experts and interest groups.

This stage is expected to conclude by Tuesday 17 November, after which it will return to the House of Commons for further debate.

For more information on the Immigration Bill 2015–16, including details on its progress through Parliament, visit services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/immigration.html.

What landlords will need to do

Landlords will need to check the immigration status of any tenants over the age of 18 who are renting the landlord’s property as their main home. If there is any doubt whether the property will be the tenant’s ‘main home’, the Home Office recommends assuming that it will be. (See section 3.3 of the Home Office’s draft code of practice for more information.)

Landlords need only conduct these checks at the beginning of tenancies that are entered into after the legislation comes into force. They must conduct the checks no earlier than 28 days before the tenancy commences.

What documents landlords need to check

Section 5.2 of the code of practice lists acceptable documents for conducting checks. This includes UK, Swiss or European Economic Area (EEA) passports, valid biometric immigration documents and permanent residence cards.

Landlords must conduct the checks in the presence of the applicant (or using a live video link), photocopy the documents and keep the copies until 12 months after the expiry of the tenancy.

Home Office checking service

If the applicant does not have any of the acceptable documents, but can provide the landlord with a Home Office reference number, the landlord will be able to use the Home Office’s ‘Landlords Checking Service’ to confirm the applicant’s immigration status.

The checking tool can be found here: https://eforms.homeoffice.gov.uk/outreach/lcs-application.ofml

It is important to avoid discrimination

A major concern regarding the new legislation is the possibility of discrimination. Landlords are already obliged by the Equality Act 2010 to avoid direct and indirect discrimination in property management, including when letting properties.

Of particular importance is that landlords conduct right to rent checks on all tenants, and that they do not refuse tenants on the basis of their nationality or ethnicity.

Also included in the home office code of conduct is guidance on how to avoid discrimination when the new legislation comes into force. See section 2, Your duty under the law, for more information.

 

Written by Ben Gosling at commercialtrust.co.uk


Posted by on 5 November 2015

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