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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Concerns Over Landlords Checking Immigration Status

Housing Rights Service and Law Centre (NI) have recently responded to the Home Office consultation ‘Tackling illegal immigration in privately rented accommodation’. Under the proposals all private landlords will have to carry out checks on the immigration status of every tenant before renting out a room or house. Penalties for those who provide rented accommodation to illegal migrants will include:

  • £1,000 fine per tenant for a first offence.
  • £3,000 fine for a repeat offence.
  • Landlords with Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) losing their licences.

The penalties will also apply to letting agents.

Migrants may be discriminated against

Both agencies are opposed to the proposed checking scheme outlined in the consultation. We fear the proposal will result in migrants being treated in a discriminatory manner and more individuals (whether migrants or not) threatened with homelessness. Prospective tenants who are perceived to be foreign nationals may be discriminated against by landlords fearful of being prosecuted under these proposals. Landlords may well prefer to let to tenants who can readily produce UK passports in order to avoid any risk of prosecution.

Tenants who are unable to immediately satisfy the proposed checking scheme will be disadvantaged in areas of high renting demand as landlords will be forced to carry out additional checks before letting to these prospective tenants. The resultant delays will disadvantage migrants as they compete with other tenants who provide less cause for concern to landlords and letting agents. We are also concerned that the exploitation of irregular migrants may increase, putting them at risk of more clandestine and substandard housing conditions.

In addition, we believe the plans may penalise those tenants legally allowed to stay in the UK as pre-tenancy charges and rents could rise due to letting agents and landlords increasing their fees to cover the administrative costs of carrying out further checks on tenants. Housing Rights Service has already raised concerns about the high costs of letting fees in Northern Ireland in a recent report.

Vulnerable tenants

Vulnerable tenants, particularly women and young people fleeing home due to domestic violence, may also find it difficult to produce the required documentation to satisfy the identification check in such emergencies. In addition, it may be difficult for people with applications pending to stay in the UK to satisfy these information requirements and to allow for speedy Home Office confirmation of their immigration status. The Government is also considering whether the proposals should also apply to lodgers and sub-tenants which will have implications for social tenants encouraged to sub-let in order to minimise the impact of the controversial ‘Bedroom Tax’ (which is still under consideration in Northern Ireland).

We also have concerns that even where landlords ask all tenants for evidence of a person’s immigration status such as a passport, in the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland, such a check could lead to the possible circumstance of a landlord discriminating against an applicant on the basis of religion and nationality when for example an Irish passport is furnished as part of the checking scheme.

Hopefully, the Home Office will reconsider these plans in the light of the many criticisms raised by landlord and tenants group in response to the consultation paper. The full response to the consultation from Law Centre (NI) and Housing Rights Service is available at the end of this article.

NICEM has also commented on the consultation:

“The UKBA are expecting private landlords, guest house owners and hoteliers to do the job of the UKBA by checking that adults they let property to are legally entitled to be in the UK. Under new proposals contained in a consultation document launched in July 2013 entitled “Tackling illegal immigration in privately rented accommodation” the Home Office states that tackling illegal immigration requires involvement from the private sector and that that by getting landlords to do checks on tenants they will help cut illegal immigration.

Whilst the Home Office are keen to emphasize that such checks are simple, for many landlords the additional cumbersome bureaucracy of this task and the hefty financial penalties they may incur if they get it wrong will lead to many simply refusing potential tenants who they perceive to be migrants. If they are unsure if a tenant’s documents are eligible they can contact the Home Office, but long delays in responding to queries will put further pressure on landlords who may face loosing money if they cannot get tenancy agreements finalised swiftly.

This will leave many migrants more vulnerable to the practices of unscrupulous landlords who may be willing to forgo such checks as well as other requirements which will be in detriment to basic human rights, for example with regard to breaches of health and safety standards. Putting immigration decisions in the hands of untrained landlords will serve to increase discrimination and put migrants at risk and NICEM would strongly advise that the Government should not put these proposals in to law.”

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Policy, Equality, Landlord

This article was written on 28 August 2013. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.