New immigration checks for landlords

As you may already be aware, private landlords are required to check the immigration status of new tenants before granting a residential tenancy from 1st February 2016.

This will be done by landlords requesting documents from their prospective tenants to show that they have the legal right to live in the UK. The legislation will only apply to new tenants, so there is no need to check your existing tenants although checks will be required when renewing a tenancy if any additional tenants are added to the agreement.

What do I need to do?
Under the new regulations, you as a landlord or your agent must check documentation of anyone who applies to rent a property. The checks must be carried out on all potential adult occupiers of the property and must be made before the tenants move in.

There are 4 basic steps to ensure compliance with the scheme:

  1. 1. Establish who will be living in the property
  2. 2. Obtain original versions of the acceptable documents for all adult occupiers
  3. 3. Check the documents in the presence of the holder
  4. 4. Make copies of the documents, date them and keep them safe
Who can rent my property and what documents can I accept?
British citizens, EEA and Swiss nationals are permitted to live in the UK and have an unlimited right to rent. These tenants can simply provide a current or expired passport or national identity card. If they do not have one of these there are a range of other documents that can be supplied and full details are available in the Right to Rent user guide issued by gov.uk.

Nationals of other countries may also have permission to live in the UK or a time limited right to rent in the UK. Acceptable documents include a valid passport that has been endorsed, biometric immigration document or immigration status document indicating that the named person may stay in the UK for a limited period.

What should I check on the documents?
Landlords should check that the documents appear genuine and show no signs of being tampered with and that they belong to the holder. Take care to ensure that photographs and dates of birth are consistent across the documents and with the person’s appearance. If the document shows an expiry date of leave to remain in the UK check this date has not passed.
How long do I need to keep the copies of the documents for?
The legislation states that you must keep the documents for the duration of the tenancy and for a minimum period of 12 months after the tenancy has ended. All documents must be kept in a safe and secure manner and destroyed within 6 years.
The tenant cannot produce any valid documents – what should I do?
If a prospective tenant cannot produce the required documents and they have an ongoing application or appeal with the Home Office then it is possible to request a right to rent check. The Home Office will then issue a simple yes or no response within 2 working days.
Can my letting agent carry out these checks for me?
Letting agents can agree to take on the responsibility of carrying out these checks and ensuring compliance with the legislation and if they have agreed to do so in writing, then they will be liable for the penalties. However, it remains the responsibility of the landlord to not grant a tenancy until the agent has confirmed the checks have been made or if the checks show that the tenant does not have the right to reside in the UK.
If the tenants appear to be British or European, should I still make the document checks?
To avoid discrimination it is advisable to carry out the checks on all tenants regardless of appearance or accent.
How can I avoid a penalty under the new regulations?
As long as you’ve carried out the 4 steps shown above to ensure compliance and recheck the documents of tenants with a time limited right to rent then you will have what is called a ‘statutory excuse’ which protects you from receiving a civil penalty. You must recheck the documents of tenants with a time limited right to rent every 12 months, or shortly before the leave expires – whichever is longer.

If you don’t carry out the required checks under the Right to Rent Bill you could be fined up to £3,000 per tenant.

Further information

The Landlords: immigration right to rent checks page on gov.uk explains in great detail how to determine who can occupy residential accommodation and how to conduct initial and follow up right to rent checks.

In addition to carrying out a right to rent check, it is advisable to carry out other checks, such as a full tenant check, on your prospective tenants to minimise the risk involved with letting your property.

NLA Full Tenant Check reports will include guidance on how to remain compliant with the new legislation.

Click here for details of NLA Tenant Check services.