Landlords and Letting Agents could be fined up to £3,000 for not conducting immigration checks on new tenancies from February this year. The amended Immigration Bill, which received royal ascent in May 2014, places additional responsibilities on landlords and their agents to ensure that incoming tenants have the right to live in the UK.
Put simply, a tenant should be either:
- A person who automatically has the right to live in the UK (either a British Citizen, a national of an EEA State other than the United Kingdom, or a national of Switzerland) or
- A person who has been given permission to live in the UK either permanently or on a temporary basis.. (more about that later...)
- Take a photocopy of the front of the passport and the detail page with their photo.
- Check the expiry date of their passport
- Check the passport is complete (passport officials cut a corner out of a passport which is no longer valid)
- If the person is not a national of an European Economic Area state then also take a photocopy of the visa which will be inside their passport.
- Check that the date of expiry of their visa is after the end of their tenancy (i.e. check that they won't be forced out of the country during the tenancy). Make a note in your diary.
- Take a photocopy of the utility bill so you can demonstrate that they were already living in the UK and paying residential bills prior to them renting a property from you. This will also ensure that you've got at least one accurate address for your reference and credit checks.
Is this a bit harsh?
Well, yes.. probably. As a Letting Agency it doesn't change much for us because we've always had a robust process for referencing which includes checking that the tenant is entitled to live in the UK (using the above process). I've always considered that as a pre-requisite because it would be poor service to our landlords to let a property to a tenant who could be turfed out of the country at any moment.
Having said that, it's an added level of complication for landlords who manage their own properties when border control should really be in the hands of the authorities. In reality I would guess that this bill is less aimed at actually fining landlords, and more at incentivising honest landlords to report those who aren't supposed to be in the country. It's a sad, but efficient approach to a problem that the authorities are all too aware of.