The new Immigration Bill which will make it a criminal offence for landlords and agents to breach Right to Rent rules has now been published. One leading housing lawyer has condemned the Bill as “hateful bilge”.
It extends the Immigration Act 2014, which made it only a civil offence if agents and landlords failed to carry out checks on the immigration status of tenants. This civil penalty regime has been part of the current Right to Rent trial going on in the west midlands since last December – and on which the Government has still not reported.
The 2015 Bill, which is due to get a second reading on October 13, makes it a criminal offence to allow a private rental property to be occupied “by an adult who is disqualified as a result of their immigration status from occupying premises under a residential tenancy agreement”.
An offence will also be committed if the landlord or agent knows, or has reason to know, that the tenant has no Right to Rent – for example, because the Secretary of State has served a notice on the landlord or agent saying that the property is occupied by someone with no right to be there.
The maximum penalty for both landlords and agents is five years in prison.
The new Bill also introduces important new rules on eviction.
If the Secretary of State serves a notice saying that the property is occupied by someone with no right to be there, the landlord or agent can then serve notice on the tenant giving them 28 days notice to quit. That notice has the enforceable status of one issued by the High Court.
It is not clear what would happen if an illegal tenant given 28 days notice to quit simply vanishes into thin air in that time.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has hit out at the new Bill, even though it does not apply in Scotland. Scottish social justice secretary Alex Neil said it will make the escalating immigrant crisis even worse, and will “increase levels of homelessness and discriminate against migrants rather than reduce immigration”.
He also criticised Westminster for rushing through the legislation, adding: “I am disappointed to see the inhumane measures set out in the Immigration Bill and I am deeply concerned that if approved, they will encourage people to discriminate against this vulnerable group.
“These harsh restrictions around rent and evictions would make it even tougher for migrants to access housing.
“Where they have accommodation, they may be too frightened to keep in contact with the Home Office and authorities if they believe there is a threat of eviction.
“The UK Government’s approach, coinciding with its delayed response to the worst humanitarian crisis facing Europe since the Second World War, shows an unbelievable lack of compassion and understanding of people’s basic rights.
“We will do all we can to stand against the proposals in the Bill.”
Lawyers have also criticised the Bill. A Nearly Legal blog written by a barrister calls some of its measures “truly remarkable”, and queries what happens if the Secretary of State serves an erroneous notice. Nor are agents or landlords given any defence if they erroneously evict a tenant.
The barrister points out: “This hateful bilge doesn’t extend to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland yet.”