Regulation and Enforcement

Landlords are not border police and nor should they be

David Smith
Written by David Smith

As the Home Secretary pledges to review aspects of the Government’s ‘hostile (or compliant)  environment’ strategy for illegal immigrants, there is now ample evidence that a key part of this is making it difficult for non-UK nationals to access housing.

Just under half of all landlords say that they are now less likely to rent to someone without a British passport according to research by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).

As well as causing inadvertent discrimination against non-UK nationals, the scheme is also posing serious difficulties for the 17 per cent of UK residents who do not have a passport, likely to be some of the poorest in society and commonly in rented accommodation.

Under the Right to Rent scheme introduced by Theresa May, landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants and face the potential for prosecution if they know or have “reasonable cause to believe” that they are letting property without the tenant having the right to rent in the UK.

The research shows that 44 per cent of landlords would only rent to those with documents familiar to them because of the fear of getting things wrong. Under the threat of prosecution involving fines or even jail time , it is not surprising landlords are playing it safe. How many people could be confident identifying a genuine Albanian passport with a leave to remain stamp?

It cannot be right that landlords are being used as the front line defence against illegal immigration. That is not and should not be their job.

If Ministers are concerned about illegal immigrants accessing services this is ultimately a failure of our border security framework. To seek to identify those here illegally on the basis that they might happen to seek a home to rent does not amount to systematic immigration control.

The RLA raised our concerns with the Immigration Minister in a letter following her appointment in January. We have yet to receive a response.

In March the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration issued perhaps the starkest warning yet about the right to rent, declaring that it was “yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance”, that the Home Office has “failed to co-ordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use” and that the Government is “doing little to address stakeholders’ concerns.”

With foreign-born individuals almost three times as likely to be in private rented housing as the UK born population it is time the Home Office addressed our concerns and those of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants who are now asking the courts to review the scheme.

It is time to pause this doubtful policy, undertake a full evaluation of its impact, and look to make the system better. Landlords are not border police and should not be expected to be so.

This article was originally published in The Times. 

About the author

David Smith

David Smith

David Smith is the Policy Director for the RLA and a Partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors. David obtained his degree and doctorate from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in International relations before re-qualifying as a lawyer. He is known for his expertise in residential landlord and tenant law and has advised the Welsh Assembly, local government, and numerous landlords and tenants of all sizes.

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