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Immigration checks by landlords
In England, from 1 February 2016 (1 December 2014 in the West Midlands) landlords letting private rented accommodation must complete a right to rent check for new tenants.
This means checking that tenants have the right to live in the UK before allowing them to rent the property.
Why do landlords have to check the immigration status of prospective tenants?
Checking that a tenant has a right to be in the country is a new legal requirement that the government has introduced for private landlords.
Landlords must check that the tenant, and any other adults who'll be living there, are in the country lawfully.
Anyone who rents accommodation to someone who isn't in the country lawfully without carrying out the checks can receive a penalty of up to £3,000 per tenant.
Agents must carry out the checks if they're acting on a landlord's behalf and have agreed to do them. The checks also apply when people rent out all or part of their home, for example, when taking in a lodger or when subletting.
Who do the rules apply to?
The rules apply to landlords or agents who let private rented accommodation to someone as their only or main home in:
- the West Midlands since 1 December 2014
- the rest of England as of the 1st of February 2016
For a home to be an only or main home it must be either:
- the only property that the person lives in, or
- the property that they use for personal, legal or family matters.
A landlord shouldn't let accommodation to an adult who isn't a relevant national or who doesn't have a right to rent under the new rules.
Who is a relevant national?
Relevant nationals are British citizens, EEA nationals and Swiss nationals. All of these people can rent accommodation but will still have to show evidence that they fall into one of these groups.
Who has a right to rent?
Someone who isn't a relevant national but who has leave to enter or remain in the UK has a right to rent accommodation. Leave to enter or remain means that the person has permission from the Home Office to be in the UK.
There is also a limited right to rent when a person's leave to enter or remain in the UK is for a limited period of time. People with a limited right to rent can rent accommodation but the landlord must do follow-up checks, usually when the person’s leave is due to expire.
In all cases, evidence of leave to enter or remain must be provided to the landlord who must keep a copy.
There is a right to rent tool on the GOV.UK website, which landlords can use to check if their property is affected and how to carry out a right to rent check.
Do the rules apply to existing tenants?
Existing tenants with an agreement that started before right to rent checks were introduced in their area, or renewals of those tenancies, aren't affected as long as the renewed agreement is between the same people and there's no break in the tenancy.
Do the rules only apply to tenancies?
The rules apply to a range of residential agreements that require payment of rent. This includes tenancies, leases of less than 7 years, licences, and sub-tenancies or sub-leases. Lodgers often have licence agreements.
The rules apply to private rented accommodation.
There are certain types of accommodation that the rules don't apply to, including:
- student halls of residence, even if they're managed privately
- accommodation provided by universities and colleges for their students including nominations for accommodation
- accommodation in care homes, hospitals and hospices
- accommodation provided by an employer
- accommodation arranged by a relevant NHS body under a legal duty
- refuges and homeless hostels managed by voluntary organisations, charities and social landlords or those that are run on a non-commercial basis
- accommodation provided by a local authority under a legal duty, for example, housing someone under homelessness law even if the accommodation provided is private rented
- accommodation which have leases of 7 years or more in England and Wales
- mobile homes that are used as a permanent residence, except where the mobile home owner is letting out their home to someone else
- holiday accommodation as long as it isn't being used as an only or main home
- accommodation provided by the government to certain asylum seekers
- social housing where the social housing landlord has already had to consider a person's immigration status before allocating them a property or where a tenant is exchanging their home with another tenant. If someone sublets their social housing or takes in a lodger then the rules do apply.
What documents might a landlord want to see?
Typical documents that a landlord can check include a passport, national identity card, residence card or certificate of registration or naturalisation. There is a full list of acceptable documents in a Code of Practice produced by the Home Office.
The landlord must take a copy of the documents provided. Landlords have to keep these copies for as long as the tenancy lasts and then for at least one year afterwards. Documents containing personal or sensitive data must be securely stored.
Landlords aren't allowed to keep originals of documents.
Home Office checking service
The Home Office has set up a 'Landlords Checking Service'.
A landlord can use this service if someone doesn't have any of the acceptable documents to prove that they are here lawfully.
As long as the person provides the landlord with a Home Office reference number, the Home Office will do the check and get back to the landlord within 2 working days confirming if there is a right to rent or not.
The checking service won't provide tenants with written confirmation of a right to rent. This may only be given to the landlord.
For more information, the Landlords Helpline can be contacted by telephone on 0300 069 9799.
When might a landlord receive a civil penalty?
A landlord can receive a civil penalty of up to £3,000 for each adult living in their property who isn't a relevant national or has no right to rent.
A landlord can avoid receiving a civil penalty if they:
- carry out the initial checks before letting property to the tenant(s) and any other adult(s) who'll be living there and keep evidence that they've done so
- do a follow-up check if the initial check shows that someone has a limited right to rent and contact the Home Office if the second check shows that someone no longer has a right to rent.
A landlord doesn't have to evict a tenant or occupier who originally had a limited right to rent and then later has no right to rent. They're only required to report the matter to the Home Office.
Civil penalty notice
If a landlord is going to receive a civil penalty, they'll receive a civil penalty notice. It outlines why the Home Office thinks the landlord is liable, the amount of the civil penalty and how it can be paid. A landlord can object to the penalty by writing to the Home Office within 28 days of the date on the notice. There is also a right of appeal.
Further information on what the objection should contain and what the Home Office will do next is available in a Code of Practice for landlords. The Code also contains information on appeals.
What happens if a landlord discriminates against a potential tenant?
The law says that people mustn't be discriminated against because of their race when renting property. Race includes colour, nationality and national or ethnic origins.
A landlord shouldn't make assumptions about whether someone is a relevant national or has a right to rent on the basis of their colour, accent, and ability to speak English etc. If they do, they may be unlawfully discriminating against that person.
The government's Code of Practice for landlords gives guidance on how to avoid race discrimination.
Can a tenant be evicted if they are not a relevant national or do not have a right to rent?
A landlord must still follow the proper legal process to evict a tenant who isn't a relevant national or who does not have a right to rent.