Fight is on to stop landlords being automatically criminalised by Right to Rent

Strong concerns have been expressed in the Commons that landlords – or their agents – would automatically be committing an offence if told by the Home Office that a tenant is in the UK illegally.

Immigration minister James Brokenshire said he would “reflect carefully” on the concerns raised.

The 2015 Immigration Bill will criminalise breaches of the Right to Rent regime, which was introduced by the 2014 Immigration Act and will be implemented across the whole of England from February.

The 2014 Act imposes civil penalties but the new Bill seeks to impose criminal sanctions.

During a committee session on the Immigration Bill, various proposed amendments were discussed.

Shadow home office minister Keir Starmer said: “The scheme has flaws … it includes provisions that put landlords in an impossible and unacceptable position because they become criminals on a date when they cannot do anything about that criminality.

“If it is brought to a landlord’s attention that they have someone in their premises who does not have a right to rent, they are duty-bound.

“It would be entirely appropriate for them to begin eviction proceedings from the moment they find out about the illegal tenant, but the landlord is already criminalised.

“They have become a criminal; they simply have not been prosecuted and charged.

“I cannot see any reason or need for that.”

Starmer was formerly Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

He was speaking to an amendment that would give landlords two months to evict a tenant after finding out that they were in the UK illegally.

A further amendment would ensure there would be no retrospective penalties.

SNP MP Anne McLaughlin emphasised the point: As currently drafted, the Bill would mean that, as soon as a landlord receives a notice from the Secretary of State that the tenant does not have the right to rent, they would automatically be committing a criminal offence.

“That is despite the Bill requiring landlords to give tenants 28 days’ notice to leave the property under the proposed eviction procedure.”

She also warned that landlords could be caught between housing legislation and the requirements of the Immigration Bill: “It is a case of ‘Which law will I break?’

“Which of those laws would the minister suggest is the better to break?”

Replying, Brokenshire said: “Amendment 71 would protect a landlord from potential prosecution where they have taken action to evict a tenant who is an illegal immigrant within two months of receiving a Home Office notice.

“There is a technical issue with the amendment, however, as it provides for that defence only when a landlord has taken eviction action under the additional routes provided in proposed new sections 33D and 33E of the Immigration Act 2014, inserted into that Act by clause 13.

“The amendment would provide no defence where a landlord is able and chooses to pursue eviction under existing routes.

“For example, a landlord may be able to pursue a no-fault eviction under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 or use other grounds available under section 8 of that Act.

“In such circumstances, the proposed defences would not be available.”

The committee also discussed concerns raised by David Smith, policy director of the Residential Landlords Association, that landlords would become risk-averse. As a result, they would discriminate against people they perceived to be non-British.

A letter from the RLA to Brokenshire was also discussed.

In it, the RLA spelled out a number of concerns, including the worry that would be felt by law-abiding landlords that they could face substantial fines or imprisonment.

The letter also pointed out the potential for chaos, citing the 2011 census which found that 16.5% of private tenants do not have a passport.

Brokenshire said he did not share the RLA’s views.

He said: “Landlords conduct some checks; they might not be focused specifically on a tenant’s rights to be in the country or who they are renting their property to. Many use agents to conduct credit and other checks.

“There is a sense that landlords in the rented sector will be vigilant. They have been or will be doing those general checks.

“The offence is only if they know or have reasonable cause to believe that someone in their rented property does not have the right to be in the country.

“We are setting a relatively high bar. We will give that clarity to the Residential Landlords Association.”


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  1. Will

    Brokenshire advised me that the legislation would be “light touch” so I guess what he must have meant was just being criminalised is better than execution!  Politicians all seem to speak with fork tongue.  It is a further example of bad law, poorly drafted by a Government not fulfilling its pledges. I guess that is what you call a ROGUE GOVERNMENT?

    When the rules become daft the public will ignore them en-mass.

  2. Will

    I have a communication from Mr Brokenshire in which he stated:

    “No one is expecting landlords to become immigration experts.  Those that undertake simple steps will have nothing to fear, and there will not be a criminal penalty.”

    Guess he could not work for Ronseal as it clearly doesn’t  “do what it says on the tin”


  3. Romain

    “As currently drafted, the Bill would mean that, as soon as a landlord receives a notice from the Secretary of State that the tenant does not have the right to rent, they would automatically be committing a criminal offence.”

    Yep, unfortunately that’s exactly what the Bill states.


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