Illegal immigration is one of the hot political topics at the moment. To solve the UK’s illegal immigration issues the Government is trying a range of tactics, including deploying controversial anti-illegal immigrant advertising vans and asking private-landlords to carry out immigration checks.
As you can imagine, the Government’s expectation that landlords could become immigration officers caused quite a storm among the landlord community. However, when you take a step back and look at the detail of the proposals, landlords checking potential tenants’ immigration status could involve little more than the current tenant checks carried out by professional landlords.
Keen to ensure the legislation could work in practise, the NLA responded to the Government’s consultation by welcoming the plans for private landlords to play an integral role in developing and maintaining sustainable communities but also raising a number of concerns, which must be addressed before the policy could become a practical reality. The Association highlighted three specific areas, representing a ‘line in the sand’ for private landlords:
- Firstly the expectation that landlords should carry out periodic checks throughout the term of a tenancy is unrealistic. On-going checking should remain the responsibility of the appropriate authorities and the duty to report overstaying households could present a distinct danger to landlords in a small but significant number of instances.
- The system must be made clear, accessible and easy to comply with. Doubt about requirements or uncertainty about how to comply may result in landlords favouring applications for accommodation from households which are easier to verify. This would be unhealthy for the diversity of communities, the private-rented sector and the perception of private landlords and could lead to further shortages of available housing.
- Private landlords tend to interview prospective tenants in the properties they wish to let. They may therefore have reduced access to office equipment such as photocopiers and fax machines. These limitations must be taken into account when devising guidance and support materials
After responding to the consultation, the NLA was invited to give evidence to the House of Commons Committee considering the Immigration Bill. NLA Chairman, Carolyn Uphill highlighted major worries over the practical difficulties and the potential danger to landlords’ safety, as well as issuing a stark warning that the Bill could only serve to nurture a rogue undercurrent of damaging and criminal letting practices.
Carolyn highlighted that landlords may inadvertently discriminate against anyone they believe to be an immigrant, simply in an attempt to avoid the risk of falling foul of regulations they may not fully understand. She said, “in a situation where there is high demand for rented property with potentially several applicants, landlords will be tempted to take the easiest route and those with British passports will get priority.”
The NLA’s concerns were echoed by MPs in the Commons Home Affairs Committee following the evidence sessions. The Committee said that landlords “will discriminate against all immigrants, regardless of their status, rather than take the risk of housing a person without right to remain”. MPs pointed out that there are more than 400 “legitimate European identity documents alone on which landlords will have to base their decision”.
Concerns over the plans have already led to a commitment that the scheme implementation will be phased, beginning in one specific part of England. It will be interesting to see how the initial phase of the scheme goes and what problems are encountered when it begins.