Since February 1st 2016, residential landlords in England are required to perform immigration checks to make sure that potential tenants comply with the new Right to Rent scheme.
The scheme is intended to ensure that only tenants with a legitimate right to live, study, work or stay in the UK can rent a property.
Right to Rent requires landlords to check their tenants’ immigration status
Under the new Right to Rent scheme, landlords or agents are required to check the immigration status of prospective tenants within four weeks before the start of a tenancy.
This applies – with only a few exceptions – to both social and private housing, and whether the tenancy or sub-tenancy is based on a written contract or only a verbal agreement. Landlords failing to perform the checks and letting their property to someone without a legitimate right to stay in the UK could face a penalty per tenant of up to £3,000. Hence one of the aims of Right to Rent is also to target rogue landlords letting property illegally to immigrants without valid right to stay in the UK.
Existing tenants who moved in before the scheme came into effect (February 1st 2016) do not need to undergo the checks. Checks are not required if the tenancy started before the introduction of the scheme and and is renewed without a break between the same landlord and tenants. If someone new moves in with the existing tenant (e.g. new spouse), and without the landlord’s knowledge, the tenant is responsible for the checks and liable for any penalty.
If the landlord uses an agent, they should agree in writing that the agent is in charge of the checks. If the agent finds that someone does not comply with the Right to Rent scheme and communicates it to the landlord in written form, the latter is liable for any penalty if they let the property anyway and don’t take the agent’s warning into consideration.
Documents required under the Right to Rent scheme
There are two lists of documents for the “Right to Rent” scheme:
- List A contains documents which show an unlimited right to rent (e.g. UK or EEA passport, immigration status document endorsed with unlimited leave). Depending on the type of document, one or two of them are required.
- List B contains documents which show a limited right to rent (e.g. a valid non-UK, non-EEA passport endorsed with a time limited period).
All reasonable steps must be taken to check the documents’ validity and that the tenant is the rightful owner of those documents. Landlords and agents should keep track of document expiration dates to ensure checks are renewed on time.
If renewed checks show that a tenant’s right to stay in the country is no longer valid, the landlord or agent should send a report to the Home Office. They are, however, not required to evict the tenant, and rent can still be collected.
If a tenant provides a false document to their landlord, the latter will only be liable for a penalty if it is reasonably obvious that the document is false: for instance, if the photo is clearly one of another person, the date of birth seems implausible, documents are illegible, or if there are signs of alteration of the document.
If no viable documents can be provided, the landlord can file an online form with the Home Office, where the checks will be carried out; the landlord can then expect a response within two working days.
If landlords can show they properly performed the Right to Rent checks and filed any required documentation with the Home Office, they will have a ‘statutory excuse’ against a civil penalty.