Immigration burden should not fall on landlords

The Home Office wants to see the rental sector tackle illegal immigration by checking all prospective tenants’ documents for UK permissions and continue to do so on an ongoing basis or face a civil penalty.

Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, fears that the effectiveness of these costly proposals relies on landlords’ ability to assess complicated papers which have not been tested.

He said: “We need to make sure these regulations are effective. It is a lot of effort to go to if they are not. Landlords are not skilled immigration officers and their recognition of documents beyond the standard UK passport and birth certificate will not be high.

“Would your average man in the street know what a naturalisation certificate looks like, or right of abode certificate, or the passport of any country in the world?”

Fletcher said it takes skilled border control staff time to check the paperwork and credentials of those migrating from outside Europe and therefore the unskilled eye will not find this easy.

He believed it would be reckless to proceed with these proposals without testing the central assumption that landlords will recognise a wide array of documents.

If the proposals are approved, every tenant, including all UK citizens, will have to be checked at a cost of £156.5m over three years.

The BPF said the such a policy should only proceed on the basis of research being undertaken or after a pilot programme has been carried out.

The BPF’s suggested reforms include a reduction in the proportion of people checked, the ongoing checks to be scrapped and the introduction of a whistle blowing system if someone is suspected of overstaying.

The Federation has also called for a two week bedding-in period for landlords before they can be prosecuted.

He added: “As things stand, landlords will be open to prosecution immediately on occupancy. What happens if they cannot access the website or the real-time helpline does not respond?

“We suggest a fairer solution would be to allow a compliance period of two weeks to allow landlords to check and record documents.”

Fletcher said the government wants to consider ways of making the regulations as light touch as possible which he hopes will be extended to devising a different check for students who already face significant additional checks as part of their application process.