An online service to make it easier for landlords to comply with the Home Office’s controversial Right to Rent scheme is due to launch later this year.
Since February 2016, private landlords have been required to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants and ascertain whether they are legally allowed to rent property in the UK. Failure to comply can result in fines of up to £3,000 per tenant or a prison term of up to five years – if it is found there was “reasonable cause to believe” the tenant in question did not have the right to rent property in the UK.
The scheme, which was brought in as part of then-home secretary Theresa May’s "hostile environment" agenda, has proven hugely unpopular with a comprehensive range of groups, including organisations representing landlords, lettings agents and tenants, and charities dedicated to housing and human rights.
Among the many concerns raised about right to rent is the additional administrative burden on landlords of conducting the relevant checks.
CSW reported last year that the Home Office had begun work on an online service through which landlords could perform the relevant checks on individuals' immigration status. However, members of the consultative panel set up to advise the department on the implementation of the policy described the version of the service they had been shown last summer as "very limited".
Immigration minister Kevin Foster has recently reiterated that “the Home Office is planning to launch an online digital right to rent status-checking service to support landlords in conducting right to rent checks”.
No date has been set for the service to go live, but it is understood the government intends to launch the tool before the end of 2020.
Such a service would follow the April 2018 launch of a digital service allowing employers to check prospective employees’ right to work in the UK. The creation of this online service was supplemented by amended legislation and official guidance for employers “which sets out how they can use the online service in complying with their responsibilities” under immigration law.
“The Home Office is transforming the way migrants demonstrate their immigration status and right to work and rent in the UK,” Foster added, in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Alex Norris.
While an online right to rent-checking service would allay some concerns about the scheme, the criticisms levelled against it are far broader and deeper.
Last year a High Court judge ruled that the programme is inherently discriminatory and breaches human rights law. The Home Office is appealing the judgement.
That ruling, made by Mr Justice Martin Spencer, came following a legal challenge launched by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. The challenge was supported by organisations including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Residential Landlords Association – both of which have participated in the Landlords Consultative Panel convened by the Home Office to monitor the scheme.
Other organisations represented on the panel include the British Property Federation, the housing charity Shelter, the UK Association of Letting Agents, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
Another panel member, National Landlords Association policy and practice director Chris Norris, told CSW last year: “We have been – sceptical would be too light a word – very concerned about Right to Rent. Frankly, I don’t think there’s anybody around the table that likes the policy.”