As from 1 February 2016 no new residential tenancies may be granted without checks being carried out on the proposed occupiers. The obligation for checking an individual's 'right to rent' has been placed on landlords, who must determine whether their tenants or lodgers have the right to live in the UK legally before granting any new tenancy.
The first phase of the scheme was introduced to the West Midlands in December 2014 as a pilot. It will now be rolled out nationally from 1 February 2016
Landlords will have a legal obligation to check and take copies of the identity documents of all new tenants. For the majority of landlords this will mean checking the tenant's passport or biometric residence permit. In a limited number of cases, where tenants do not have their documents due to ongoing Home Office applications, landlords can request an official check using the Home Office online form. The checking service will then provide a 'yes' or 'no' answer within 2 working days to confirm whether the landlord may let to a particular tenant.
Where the tenant is a non-European Economic Area national with a time-limit on their stay in the UK, the landlord will need to make another check when the person’s visa or residence permit is due to expire.
No tenant should be allowed into occupation before the relevant checks have been completed. After 1 February 2016 any existing tenants should be checked before their tenancy is renewed.
The penalties for not complying with these rules can be tough. A landlord can be liable for a civil fine of up to £3,000 per tenant for authorising the occupation of accommodation for use as an only or main home by a person who does not have the right to rent in the UK. The Immigration Bill 2015-2016 is currently before Parliament and it proposes further measures to strengthen the enforcement of the Scheme. In particular, there are proposals for imposing criminal sanctions, including prison sentences, for landlords who breach the rules and providing new accelerated procedures for evicting illegal tenants.
Many landlords use the services of an agent to let or manage their property. Where a written agreement for the agent to carry out the relevant checks on behalf of the landord is in place, the agent will be fully liable for the penalties in respect of any breach.
For more information, please contact Kate Burrows.