Landlords are not border guards

I’m sure many were amused by the irony when Immigration Minister Mark Harper resigned after he discovered he had failed to check accurately the immigration status of his cleaner whom he had employed for several years.

Mr Harper was the minister guiding the new Immigration Bill through Parliament. One also assumes that, as a member of the government, he had first rate Home Office advice instantly available to him.

If he cannot get the facts right in checking somebody’s immigration status, what chance do landlords have, not to mention GPs and a host of others who will be required to take on this task if the Bill becomes law in its current form?

It’s quite likely that Mr Harper will avoid being fined for his shortcomings. Landlords, however, face a £3,000 fine if they fail to verify the immigration status of a tenant; that’s £3,000 for every individual tenant as distinct from every letting.

Checking immigration status is not a straightforward box ticking exercise. Legal advisers require specialist legal training and need to pass examinations before they can give immigration advice. The guidance already given to employers to enable them to do so runs to 89 pages and the list of acceptable documents provided by the former UK Border Agency in May 2013 runs to a dozen pages. The government is promising a Code of Practice for landlords. How many pages will that be?

Difficulties will arise where an existing or prospective tenant has an outstanding application mired in the Home Office’s bureaucracy or hopelessly inadequate IT system. Some people will have a right to remain in the UK but the appropriate documentation is somewhere ‘in the system’. We know from press reports that the Home Office’s casework backlog runs to more than half a million!.

How on earth will they be able to cope with a whole new wave of clarification requests from landlords?

There is a very real danger that landlords will just decide that the hassle is too much and so they will avoid renting to anyone who might be a migrant or a refugee. Even the Government admits that its proposed legislation “might provoke landlords to discriminate against people who they perceive to be foreign rather than conduct proper checks.” And what of good tenants who have rented your property for years without problems and who you will now be required to check up on?

The ‘landlord’ provisions are only one aspect of a huge Bill that aims to ‘create a hostile environment’ for some migrants. It risks turning ordinary citizens into ‘border guards’ and will damage race relations and social cohesion. This is why a campaign called the Movement Against Xenophobia (MAX) has been launched.

What can be done? You may like to sign a petition https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/reject-government-inspired-xenophobia calling on the House of Lords to amend damaging clauses in the Bill, and you may want to tell your MP to support those amendments when they come back to the Commons. But act soon as time is running out!

This blog has been provided by Phil Cooper, Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum on behalf of MAX.

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