A landmark court judgement may have a significant impact on the Government’s Right to Rent legislation.
Airline Ryanair won a civil court case after appealing against fines imposed by the Home Office for carrying illegal immigrants into the UK.
Significantly, the judge who found in favour of the airline said its staff could not be expected to spot cleverly forged passports that even trained immigration officers found hard to detect.
The judge said the way the regime for airlines to check passports is operated by the Home Office “offends the basic concepts of justice and indeed rule of law.”
The Residential Landlords Association now believes the ruling could impact on the Government’s ability to enforce its ‘Right to Rent’ policy.
Whilst the ruling is not binding on other courts it does raise that prospect that under the Right to Rent – the scheme that expects landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants – a landlord who has also been duped by a good, forged document would be likely to be successful with an appeal against any action taken against them by the Home Office.
The ruling comes just days before the House of Lords debates a motion seeking to suspend the roll out of the Right to Rent scheme across the country.
RLA Policy Director, David Smith said: “This court ruling vindicates what we have been saying all along, that landlords cannot and should not be expected to act as border police or to detect forgeries that trained and experienced airline staff and immigration officers might miss.
“In light of this case and to save the Government money from losing similar actions brought by landlords, we call on the Government to provide better information to landlords about document forgeries and offer more clarity as to the legal responsibility of landlords duped by forged identify documents.”
New Legislation means Landlords must Check Tenant’s Right to Rent in the UK
Not only has new legislation due to start in April added extra stamp duty to buy-to-let homes but from tomorrow landlords can be fined up to £3,000 for renting property to somebody who isn’t allowed to rent in England. The Right To Rent rules require all private landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants before contracts are signed, to make sure they have the right to rent.
And it’s not just those named on the tenancy agreement that need to be investigated. Everyone aged 18 and over who will be living in a property must be checked, regardless of nationality, and checks are only valid if carried out within the 28 days before a tenancy agreement starts. Landlords now have to see and make a copy of every tenant’s passport or residence permit, with a fine imposed per tenant if necessary. Introduced in the Immigration Act 2014, the new rules are intended to prevent rogue landlords exploiting immigrants and should be introduced to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at a later date.
It has led to claims that anybody with a foreign-sounding name will find it harder to rent because landlords won’t want to risk problems, but possibly the bigger issue is that many landlords don’t understand the new rules. A Landlord Knowledge Survey by online estate agent Urban.co.uk found that only half of those affected are properly prepared; 20 per cent believed they had until April 2017 and 3 per cent thought it came in 2018.
The survey of 5,000 landlords also discovered that only 10 per cent provide the correct information to tenants at the start of a lease, and potentially more serious is that 16 per cent fail to provide a valid contact address on tenancy agreements, which could make contracts null and void and lead to financial risk. This may be down to the rise in “accidental landlords” (people who have inherited a property or needed to relocate) which accounts for 30 per cent of UK landlords.
Adam Male, co-founder of Urban.co.uk, says: “There has been an influx of new legislation relating to the rental market made in recent years and we know that UK landlords are struggling to keep on top of these changes. New regulations such as the Right to Rent have the potential to stop ‘back door’ lettings and create a better environment for all. However, this will only happen if the scheme is communicated to landlords properly.”
Landlords who rent out properties through an agency should not be troubled by the new legislation if their agents deal with contracts, and companies such as FCC Paragon (0844 375 9616/fccparagon.com) offer a standalone service while Tenants Plus (tenantsplus.co.uk) matches pre-referenced and credit-checked tenants to properties available to let that are registered on its website. On the plus side, most landlords have taken in other new legislation, with 77 per cent aware of the need for an up-to-date Energy Performance Certificate, or EPC, according to Urban.co.uk and 95 per cent understand their responsibilities for annual gas safety checks with 80 per cent knowing the legal requirement for a smoke alarm on every floor.
One aspect of November’s Autumn Statement that landlords may not be aware of, though, is that tenants who rely on housing benefit will lose their funding if they leave the UK for more than a month. Despite all this, agents report a buy-to-let surge before the extra stamp duty on second homes comes into force in April, and there is a small growth in purpose-built rental homes, at least in England.