Garden Court Housing Team responds to consultation on tackling illegal immigration in privately rented accommodation

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Garden Court Chambers' Housing Team has submitted a response to the Home Office consultation "Tackling illegal immigration in privately rented accommodation". In our response, we set out why we are wholly opposed to the proposals to require private landlords to undertake checks on the immigration status of prospective tenants.

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Checks by landlords and landladies would be a new stage in the privatisation of immigration control, a step change from the current system of checks by employers and educational institutions. For the reasons set out below, the team considers that had the proposals been thought through adequately they would have been recognised as not workable. Checking immigration status is not a simple task. Individuals and families would be prejudiced as a result of problems with record keeping and delays in the Home Office, the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal.

We consider that the proposals give rise to a real risk of increased homelessness, including of families, and of exploitation. We consider that the cost to local authorities of having to deal with homelessness persons in this way has not been considered adequately. It is on local authority social services departments that the cost of housing unlawfully present migrants often falls. No adequate account has been given as to how the extra cost will be met by local authorities.

We additionally consider that these proposals would add to the possibility of exploitation of tenants and prospective tenants by a small number of rogue landlords. Many migrants lawfully present are ineligible for social housing under Parts 6 and 7 Housing Act 1996 and depend upon finding private rented accommodation. Those who may be unlawfully present, or where there is some confusion as to their status, are even more dependent upon the private rented sector. We are concerned that a minority of private landlords do not comply with existing legal obligations, for example compliance with the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, with the obligation to register tenants' deposits (s.213 Housing Act 2004), with the obligation to provide a name and address for service (s.48 Landlord & Tenant Act 1987) or with repairing obligations.

Where a prospective tenant is identified as someone whose immigration status is either unclear or perhaps unlawful, some of those rogue landlords might be only too willing to let properties at higher rents and without compliance with landlords' legal obligations on the basis that the tenant has no choice.

We are also concerned that this will lead to an increase in street homelessness, as migrants will be considered ineligible for social housing and homelessness assistance and unable to secure private rented accommodation.

We estimate that there will be substantial costs for landlords in complying with these proposals and those costs will be passed onto the tenant or applicant for a tenancy. There is already considerable concern at the level of costs that prospective tenants are required to pay to private landlords and/or lettings agents: a recent Shelter survey found that on average almost £350 was paid per let and that this is often not refunded if the tenancy was not granted. These proposals will result in prospective tenants paying substantially higher fees, which are unlikely to be refunded to them.

Finally, we believe that these checks will inevitably be operated in a manner which discriminates against the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. We believe that landlords will be more likely to implement checks against people who are not white, or who appear not to speak English as a first language.

Click here to download a full copy of our response to the consultation.

For background to the Home Office's consultation, click here.

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