The Residential Landlords’ Association has written to an immigration minister to express its concern over possible ‘further sanctions’ for landlords who knowingly let to tenants without permission to live and work in the UK.
Last week the government suggested new sanctions may be outlined in a White Paper this summer, and the RLA is concerned these proposals will go further even than the existing penalties - up to five years in prison and unlimited fines for breaching right to rent rules.
RLA chairman Alan Ward has written to immigration minister Robert Goodwill seeking clarification and requesting a meeting to discuss any plans that may impact on the private rental sector.
Copies of the letter have also been send to housing minister Gavin Barwell, the chair of the Homes Affairs Select Committee - Labour’s Yvette Cooper - and Labour’s Clive Betts, who is chair of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee.
The letter reads:
I write with reference to an article in the Times on 22nd March 2017 entitled “Employers could face jail for ignoring immigration rules.”
The article states that “under the new plans, landlords found guilty of knowingly letting to illegal immigrants could also face a maximum sentence of five years.”
I should be grateful if you could confirm that far from being a “new plan”, since 1st December 2016 a maximum sentence of five years has already been introduced for landlords found guilty of this offence.
The article quotes an unnamed “senior minister” as saying of plans for an immigration system post-Brexit that the Government “will be making landlords and employers do a lot of the heavy lifting on enforcement.”
Such language is clearly alarming for landlords who are already, faced with the threat of prosecution, becoming reluctant to rent property to those who cannot easily prove their identity, even where they have a right to rent. In its recent research the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that:
- 51% of landlords surveyed said that the right to rent scheme would make them less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals.
- 42% of landlords stated that they were less likely to rent to someone without a British passport as a result of the scheme. This rose to 48% when explicitly asked to consider the impact of the criminal sanction.
An enquiry from a British Black Minority Ethnic (BME) tenant without a passport was ignored or turned down by 58% of landlords, in a mystery shopping exercise.
We are concerned that further measures to make landlords do the “heavy lifting of enforcement” will make landlords more reluctant to rent to those who cannot easily prove their nationality. This would be a particular concern for the 17% of the UK born population without a passport.
Our own research with our members found that 43% were less likely to rent to those who do not have a British passport because of the fear of criminal sanctions for getting it wrong.
Nearly two-thirds said that they were less likely to rent to those who only have permission to stay in the UK for a limited period of time and 56% are less likely to rent to people coming from outside the EU or EEA.
The survey found also that 63% of landlords are worried that they will make a mistake or be caught out by forged documents and be unfairly fined. Just 13% reported having found the Home Office’s Advice Line helpful to them.
Given the importance of a balanced relationship between a tenant and landlord based on trust, we are concerned that, as seems to be suggested in the quote provided by the unnamed Minister, landlords are being expected increasingly to fulfil a role that should be undertaken by border agencies, which will cause tensions between landlords and those tenants who cannot easily prove their right to rent without a passport.
In light of this, we would welcome an early opportunity to meet with you and/or officials to discuss our concerns in further detail ahead of the Government publishing its plans for an immigration system post Brexit.
Such a meeting would provide an opportunity to consider:
What more the Government and Crown Prosecution Services could do to produce clear and publicly available guidance to reassure landlords that those caught out by, for example, forged documents, will not face prosecution.
What work the Home Office has been doing with other departments to understand the cumulative impact of this measure, together with all other regulations and legislation being introduced into the sector over the next few years, on the supply of homes to rent and rent levels. Changes include:
- Phased changes to Mortgage Interest Relief starting from April this year:
- New energy efficiency regulations coming into force in April 2018;
- Landlords continuing to need to adjust to the roll out of Universal Credit;
- Plans to reform the system of HMO Licensing and room sizes in rental accommodation which DCLG has recently consulted on; and
- The continued implementation of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
In light of the considerable interest in this matter among RLA members and the public more widely, I am publishing this letter on our website and copying also the Housing Minister, and the Chairs of the Home Affairs and CLG Select Committees.
I look forward to hearing from you.