At a time of heightened national security amid international tensions, the requirement to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants is to go ahead.
It will be trialled from December 1 in just one area, the west midlands.
A code of practice has yet to be agreed, with a working party due to meet again next week.
The Home Office yesterday announced that the pilot will be carried out in Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. It will not apply in Solihull and Coventry.
The go-ahead was immediately attacked by the Residential Landlords Association, which called on the Home Office to abandon the plan, which it described as more red tape.
The Home Office yesterday clarified that the checks will apply only to new tenancies from the date of implementation, with no requirement to check the immigration status of existing tenants or occupants.
The checks will need to be made on all adults aged 18 and over who will be living in the property.
Either a landlord or their agent will be able to complete the checks – and should be able to do so without contacting the Home Office in most cases.
In cases where a prospective occupant has submitted all of their papers to the Home Office to make an application or appeal, landlords or their agents can request that t Home Office conduct a right to rent check by completing a form online (or by telephone for assisted digital).
Landlords will receive a clear yes or no response within two working days (48 hours). Asylum seekers who are awaiting a final determination, or those who face a recognised barrier to leaving the UK, may also be afforded a discretionary right to rent.
However, letting agents or landlords will need to see and retain copies of documents such as passports, birth certificates, driving licences or biometric residence permits.
There will be penalties for those who fail to undertake checks, whether inadvertently or knowingly. There will be a sliding scale of heavier penalties for those who persistently fail to carry out the so-called “right to rent” checks.
However, agents and landlords will not be penalised if they are misled by a skilful forgery, provided they record that they have performed the necessary checks.
David Cox, managing director of ARLA, said: “We are pleased the Government has chosen to undertake a pilot project of the Immigration Act requirements before rolling them out nationwide.
“Reputable letting agents already undertake identification checks on potential tenants and therefore many of these provisions are enshrining best practice in law.
“However, it is essential this is robustly tested and any issues corrected before additional responsibilities are placed upon landlords and letting agents across the country.
“ARLA will be ensuring that its members are ready for these new requirements and will be running seminars in the west midlands over the coming months.”
Isobel Thomson, NALS CEO, said:“The new requirements must be workable for all parties and must not place undue pressure on agents and landlords to pick up the slack where Border Control measures have failed.
“As there will be a cost attached to carrying out these checks, there is the risk that it may push up the cost of renting.”
The Residential Landlords Association was fiercely critical. It said the checks would jeopardise relationships between landlords and agents and tenants, because requiring evidence of citizenship would call into question the rights of many people legally entitled to British residency.
Chris Town, the RLA’s vice-chairman, said: “Many British people do not have a passport, and for those tenants on housing benefits, without passports, this will create an added difficulty.
“This policy continues to smack of political posturing rather than a seriously thought through policy.
“For a Government committed to reducing the burden of red tape it is ironic that they are now seeking to impose a significant extra burden on landlords, making them scapegoats for the UK Border Agency’s failings.”
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