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Right To Rent: lawyer slams government for 'outsourcing responsibility'

An immigration lawyer has criticised the government’s Right to Rent scheme - officially starting today - for having little impact but the potential to cause significant fear and hardship for migrant groups.

From this morning, anyone entering into a new tenancy agreement in England will have to prove that they have the right to live in the UK. Private landlords will have to check, make and keep copies of new tenants’ identity documents.

However, figures obtained from the Home Office by law firm Simpson Millar show that just nine civil penalties were issued to landlords under the Right to Rent pilot between 1 December 2014 and 19 November 2015.

Six fines were issued to landlords of properties in Birmingham, two in Sandwell and one in Dudley. The pilot covered the city of Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton.

“Given that the pilot covered an area with more than two million people it is hard to see how the scheme has had any significant financial impact at all. Rather, it has the potential to create a culture of fear and discrimination,” says Sumita Gupta who is head of Immigration, Manchester at Simpson Millar.

Landlords who fail to comply with the rules could face a fine of up to £3,000. 

Yet, during the first 12 months of the pilot, the total value of fines came to just £9,480, and no fines were issued to letting agents, managing agents or estate agents. Just £4,057 had been collected by the end of November 2015.

Gupta criticises the scheme for targeting a group of people who already feel singled out: “There will be rogue landlords who won’t care about undertaking the required document checks; they could view this new scheme as an opportunity to exploit a very vulnerable group of people who might otherwise find it difficult to secure accommodation and end up homeless.

“This is another example of UK Visas and Immigration outsourcing their responsibilities. Immigration is a hugely complex and sensitive area of law. The documents that landlords will be expected to check are manifold. Enforcement should be dealt with by the appropriate agencies but, instead, this scheme puts the responsibilities of UK Visas and Immigration onto the shoulders of private landlords, agencies and sub-letters.”

To avoid a fine, or discriminating against tenants, landlords, agencies and sub-letters must make themselves famililar with the Home Office Code of Practice relating to the Right to Rent.

According to the Home Office, objections were received in two of the nine cases, but none of those resulted in a reduction of the fine.

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