Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Immigration checks guidance causes confusions

Not for the first time, landlords and lettings agents have been left mystified by Government plans for them to become partly responsible for policing immigration.

We have all been aware for some time that, come October, we would have to be responsible for checking tenants’ immigration status. Now Government guidance has been issued that leaves things even cloudier rather than clearer. 

The guidance issued first on August 7, withdrawn in the early hours of, and then reissued a short time later, on August 8, appears to have watered down the requirements and speaks only of an introduction “in late Autumn 2014”.

The “factsheet” now states that checks will only come into force in one area of the UK this year and may then be rolled out more widely during 2015.

But so far there is no clue as to where that area will be and the draft Codes of Practice, guidance, and on-line resources for making the checks, including an aid to help landlords and tenants identify whether they are affected and, if so, how to conduct a check will be published at the same time.

In some ways this is a relief – it could take the pressure off many landlords. But the downside is that none of us knows whether or not we are affected so we still have to be vigilant, prepared, and await the announcement as to which area of England will be the policy pioneer. No landlord, or letting agent, can be sure they are off the hook temporarily because they are not in the launch area or permanently because the latest guidance also infers that rolling out the checks more widely may not happen.

The Government says the checks will be very simple and in most cases can be carried out while avoiding the need to contact the Home Office. But the Government has also promised it will provide a comprehensive set of services to help in conducting the checks, including both on-line and via a local-rate telephone helpline providing general information as well as a checking service for more complex cases.

In the meantime, it’s suggested landlords and tenants take a look at the right to work check (, which is similar to the resource being introduced for landlords. The Government says the employers’ resource has “attracted praise as being user friendly, quick, and easy to use”.

Landlords and lettings agents who fail to carry out the checks will be given a civil penalty up to a maximum of £3,000. Thankfully this means it is not a criminal conviction, but there is no explanation as yet as to who imposes the penalty or assesses its scale.

Checks will be “simple and straightforward” to complete. Landlords will need to obtain and copy documents demonstrating an individual’s right to rent in the UK, such as a passport or biometric residence permit. In most cases there will be no need for landlords to contact the Home Office but to be safe the credentials of all tenants, even those apparently “British” will need to be checked, if only in the interests of racial equality.

The case-checking service will be used for status verification where the prospective tenant has an outstanding immigration application with the Home Office or the Home Office has their documents. This service will provide a clear yes/no response within two working days. If a landlord has not had an answer from the Home Office within two working days, they can go ahead and rent without risk of incurring a penalty.

Landlords will only have to conduct checks on new, and not existing, tenants from the implementation date.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the guidance from the Home Office is the note at the end: “August 2014 – All information in this factsheet was correct at the time of publishing but is subject to change.” So even though we have guidance, we have no definite idea of what is to come!

However, rest assured we are watching developments closely and I will update you immediately there is confirmation, when we also put in place appropriate internal procedures.

The Home Office factsheet can be found here.

Lisa SimonMARLA

Partner - Head of National Residential Lettings

Lisa is the head of Residential Lettings at Carter Jonas; she is based in our Knightsbridge and Chelsea office where she started her career and advises on all aspects of letting and managing propert...

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