By Daniel Hunter

Responding to a government consultation on tackling illegal immigration via rented homes, the British Property Federation (BPF) today (Thursday) warned that the proposals, which could see landlords prosecuted for failing to recognise complex immigration documents, were disproportionate in their current form, and could prove ineffective in efforts to identify illegal immigrants.

Home Office proposals will force landlords to check all prospective tenant’s documentation for their permission to be in the UK, and conduct ongoing checks on their status, and face a civil penalty if they rent to an illegal immigrant. Every tenant, including all UK citizens, will have be checked at a cost of £156.5m over three years.

The BPF has warned that with such significant cost the proposals had better prove effective. The effectiveness of the proposals, however, rest on landlords recognising complex documents that even skilled border control staff take time to check accurately, and that no research had been undertaken on whether landlords were up to that task. The BPF stresses that the policy should only proceed on the basis of such research being undertaken, or after a pilot phase.

The BPF has called for a number of reforms to the proposals, including:
To reduce the proportion of people checked, for example, introducing a simplified test for students, who already face additional immigration checks.
Landlords should not have to check a tenant’s on-going visa status.
Instead, introduce a voluntary whistle blowing system for landlords to report those who are overstaying.
Introduce a two week compliance period before landlords are open to prosecution - to expect instant compliance on occupancy was unrealistic in various scenarios and would put undue strain on the proposed real-time helpline.
Sunset the regulations after three-years, so they could only continue with Parliament’s approval, if they proved effective.
For Parliament to scrutinise the resource behind the proposed ‘real time’ helpline and budget for communicating these new rules to everyone likely to rent out, or live in, a private rented sector property in this country.
Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, said: “We need to make sure these regulations are effective. It is a lot of effort to go if they are not. Landlords are not skilled immigration officers and their recognition of documents beyond the standard UK passport and birth certificate will not be high. Would your average man in the street know what a naturalisation certificate looks like, or right of abode certificate, or the passport of any country in the world? It takes skilled border control staff time to check the paperwork and credentials of those migrating from outside Europe and doesn’t suggest that the unskilled eye will find this easy. It would be reckless to proceed with these proposals without testing this central assumption that landlords will recognise a wide array of documents.

“As things stand, landlords will be open to prosecution immediately on occupancy. What happens if they cannot access the website, or the real-time helpline does not respond? We suggest a fairer a solution would be to allow a compliance period of two weeks to allow landlords to check and record documents.”

“The Government has said it will consider ways of making these regulations as light touch as possible and we hope that they will consider a different check for students, who already face significant additional checks as part of their application process.”

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