Right to rent checks; explained
From February 2016, all landlords need to make sure they confirm that a prospective tenant is legally able to rent their property.
The scheme aims to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the UK and was introduced under the 2014 Immigration Act.
In this week's blog, we outline what landlords need to do in order to comply with the law.
What is right to rent?
Known as a right to rent checks, landlords need to confirm the immigration status of all potential tenants or lodgers. This includes anyone over the age of 18. People who are allowed to be in the UK have a right to rent property. If the check is not completed and the tenant has no right to rent, the landlord risks severe penalties.
At the moment, right to rent checks apply to England only. There are currently no plans to roll the scheme out to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Who does this apply to?
Landlords, agents or householders who are letting private rented accommodation, or taking in a lodger, need to carry out the checks. Anyone who lives in a property as a tenant or occupier and sub-lets the property or a room also needs to comply with the law. The team at Townends can manage the whole right to rent process and all of your legal obligations, as long as this is given in writing.
Remember that you must check all new tenants. It's against the law to just check those you think are not British citizens.
What do I have to do?
The government has outlined five main steps landlords should take (we take these as standard for our clients):
1. Check which adults will use your property as their main home (your tenants).
2. Ask them for original documents that prove they can live in the UK.
3. Check their documents to see if they have the right to rent your property.
4. Check that each tenant’s documents are genuine and belong to them, with the tenant present.
5. Make and keep copies of the documents and record the date you made the check.
Which documents are accepted?
If you are a British citizen, Irish citizen or a national of the European Economic Area (EEA), a current or expired passport is accepted. The government has produced a full list of acceptable documents, which are grouped into categories, on their website here.
When you’re with the tenant and looking at the documents, you need to check that:
1. the documents are originals and belong to the tenant
2. their permission to stay in the UK has not ended
3. the photos on the documents are of the tenant
4. the dates of birth are the same in all documents (and are believable)
5. the documents are not too damaged or do not look like they’ve been changed
6. if any names are different on documents, there are supporting documents to show why, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree
What if a tenant doesn't have the right documentation?
Check with the Home Office if the tenant is a Commonwealth citizen but does not have the right documents, they might still have the right to rent in the UK. If the prospective tenant can't show you that they have the right to rent, you can’t let the property to them.
If the Home Office has the tenant's original documents because they are going through an immigration application or appeal, you can ask for a Home Office right to rent check. Obtain the tenant's Home Office reference number and you should receive a response within two days.
How do I need to make copies?
When you copy the document, follow the below advice from the government:
1. make a copy that cannot be changed, such as a photocopy or a good quality photograph
2. for passports, copy every page with the expiry date or applicant’s details (such as nationality, date of birth and photograph), including endorsements, for example a work visa or Certificate of Entitlement to the right of abode in the UK
3. copy both sides of biometric residence permits
4. make a complete copy of all other documents
5. record the date you made the copy
6. keep copies of the tenant's documents for the time they’re your tenants and for one year after. Make sure you always follow data protection law.
Do I need to follow-up?
If there's a time limit on a tenant’s permission to stay, you must complete a follow-up check to make sure your tenant can still rent property in the UK, or you risk being fined.
Complete a follow-up check just before the date that's the later of:
1. the end of your tenant’s permission to stay in the UK
2. 12 months after your previous check
Does Brexit change things?
The government has reassured landlords and agents that this guidance will be applicable until 1 January 2021, irrespective of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal. This means that you should continue to undertake the checks in the same way.
Can a letting agent help?
Landlords can ask an agent to carry out the checks on their behalf. Make sure you get this agreement in writing. Our specialist lettings team are very experienced when it comes to all legislation in the private-rented sector, including right to rent checks. Our Fully Managed Plus service finds you the best tenants, covers all of your legal and compliance obligations, with rent protection and maintenance issues taken care of. Contact us on 020 3911 3673 or email us today to find how we take the strain away from landlords with our Fully Managed Plus service.