As it stands, this is precisely what the Government is planning to do by introducing an Immigration Bill to Parliament including a civil scheme to penalise leasing accommodation to illegal immigrants. The scheme is intended to come into effect in 2014. Government’s proposals, as set out in the relevant Government consultation document, are summarised below. The scheme ultimately implemented may vary.
The Government suggests that landlords check tenants’ immigration status, but will recognise the agreed transfer of the duty to a letting agent. Where a landlord has performed checks according to Government guidelines, the landlord will be able to claim a statutory exemption from penalty. Where a property is rented out to a company, the Government proposes that the company is responsible for making checks.
Rechecks might have to be made annually for those with temporary leave. A landlord would be required not to renew a tenancy agreement if a tenant cannot provide documentation at the time of recheck, but would not be required to take possession proceedings. The landlord would also be required to report the suspected illegal migrant to the Home Office.
The Home Office proposes two possible levels of penalty, £1,000 or £3,000 per illegal immigrant, depending on the landlord’s compliance history. In addition to objecting on the basis of having performed the document checks, a landlord would be able to object based on not being liable.
Our bone of contention is the requirement to report tenants whose immigration paperwork expires during the course of the tenancy. If this happens to an employer, assuming the employee has been in employment for less than two years, they can summarily dismiss them without being accused of unfair dismissal. Although the member of staff would have to leave employment that day, there are no risks to the employer. But landlords on the other hand, are subject to housing legislation and cannot summarily evict a tenant, even if they wanted to, for losing the right of abode in the UK.
The government says that Landlords should simply report the tenant to the home office. Much of the Landlords business as we know it, relies on good tenant relations, and asking tenants repeatedly about their immigration status is unlikely to augur well. Also tenants could understandably become aggrieved if the landlord reports them to the home office. They may feel desperate, stop paying rent and even become hostile and take out their frustration on the landlord or the property.
The danger is that landlords would avoid taking tenants with restricted immigration status for fear of repercussions. This is hopeless for prospective tenants who happen to have short visas and hope to renew them and could be unlawful discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity or race. It also flies in the face of a number of other government policies, such as a desire to attract overseas students and the best talent for global businesses based in the UK.
Anecdotal reports shows that lots of people confuse issues of immigration status and ethnicity. A BBC report recently demonstrated the blatant discrimination that black applicants can experience. A white applicant for a flat was offered a viewing by an agent where the black tenant was wrongly told that the same flat had been taken. The agent said that they were complying with the landlord’s instructions, but this is unlawful. There are landlords who say that they prefer not to house people from certain ethnicities because of one bad experience. Apart from the social injustice, this attitude just makes bad business sense because the landlord is restricting their pool of applicants and perpetuating their own fixed attitude.
The Government plan to impose these immigration check responsibilities on Landlords will make finding rented property for black and ethnic minority tenants even more difficult. Many landlords have voiced their concerns that they will be turned into the border police, which is not good for community relations.
The government on its part, argues that there is a lot of support for these measures and that it is simply not fair that people who pay nothing into the system should be able to enjoy the benefits of living in the UK. This argument I might highlight, is flawed as many people here illegally work extremely hard in the shadow economy and are helping to regenerate the UK. Measures like these checks, will push them even further underground and into the hands of exploitative criminal landlords.
This article was submitted to Property118 by zone4homes.com