Landlords ‘told to be immigration officers’

Jonathan Hogan reports on the new Right to Rent laws

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The government’s new Right to Rent scheme compromises law-abiding landlords and could disenfranchise asylum seekers, according to the North West Landlords Association.

Piloted in the West Midlands, the new law came into force on 1 February this year, forcing landlords to carry out checks to make sure all prospective tenants have the right to rent property in the UK.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) was among the first to hit out at the scheme’s roll-out nationwide as more than 90 per cent of landlords received no information about the plans.

Now the North West Landlords Association (NWLA) has echoed the dissent and criticised the government’s insistence on burdening landlords with excessive responsibility.

“Landlords are now expected to be immigration officers as well as the multifarious tasks they have to engage in to run their businesses,” said NWLA business development officer Sharon Betton.

“The very heavy penalties, should they accidentally let to someone without the right to rent, is deterring them from taking anyone that they have any doubts about.

“This is not because they are racist – I have worked with asylum seekers in previous employment and know that many landlords have been sympathetic and accommodating, realising the vast majority only want to settle in a safe environment.”

She believes that the new scheme leaves responsible landlords with little room to manoeuvre and could make life very difficult for asylum seekers.

“They [asylum seekers] will be denied the opportunity to live in a good private sector property because their language skills do not allow them to make their case and prove that they are legally entitled to take a property,” she added.

“This will lead them to landlords who are off the radar, providing beds in sheds and using vulnerable asylum seekers as slave labour.”

The fear now is that the new legislation could negatively affect those who are already the most vulnerable – including asylum seekers and the homeless.

And the RLA has suggested part of their concern comes from the government’s eagerness to implement the scheme.

RLA spokesperson Sally Walmsley said: “The government made the decision to roll out Right to Rent before it had published the evaluation of the pilot project, which resulted in only single figure fixed penalties being issued in a six month period.

“We believe the six month period was too short and that MPs and peers were not given time to properly assess the findings.”

The organisation is also concerned that tenants could feel discriminated against that the government is making little effort to communicate with landlords.

RLA policy director Dr David Smith added: “The government argues that its Right to Rent plans form part of a package to make the UK a more hostile environment for illegal immigrants. The evidence shows that it is creating a more hostile environment for good landlords and legitimate tenants.

“Landlords are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Fearful of a fine, they face two difficult ways forward. They can play it safe, and take a restrictive view with prospective tenants, potentially causing difficulties for the 12 million UK citizens without a passport.

“Alternatively, they may target certain individuals to conduct the checks, opening themselves up to accusations of racism.

“The government’s own evaluation of its pilot scheme noted that there was only limited evidence that the policy is achieving its objectives. Given the considerable problems it will create for tenant-landlord relations, it’s time for the government to think again.”

Photo: Albert Bridge, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

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