Private landlords or their agents could be required to check the immigration status of at least 2.6m people a year – and possibly more than double that number – when Right to Rent is implemented in England in just over three weeks’ time.
The calculation is by the Chartered Institute of Housing, which found that there were 2.6m moves within the private rented sector in the year 2013/14.
However, it has warned that the number of people who will be subject to checks each year could “easily be double that figure, based on a conservative estimate that each letting will involve two households being checked”.
The CIH is calling for roll-out of the Right to Rent scheme to be postponed, and says it should be trialled in a “high pressure area” such as London.
There has already been a pilot in the west midlands, running for just over 13 months, but the CIH says there should be a second trial.
Under Right to Rent, checks must be made on all new tenants and without discrimination. Landlords can hand the legal duty over to agents by written agreement.
The requirement to perform checks comes under the Immigration Act 2014, which imposes civil penalties.
However, the newer Immigration Bill 2015 would bring in criminal penalties, including jail sentences.
The CIH warned that faced with the potential scale of the task and the threat of criminal sanctions, landlords may simply discriminate against anyone they believe is not British, even if they have a legal right to live in the UK.
Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the CIH, said it is vital for landlords to be given proper training on how to conduct immigration checks in order to “combat the risk of discrimination against people who have every right to be in the UK”.
Alafat went on: “For many people, private renting is the only option, and if this is removed homelessness and destitution may follow.
“The new Housing and Planning Bill includes measures to tackle rogue landlords, which we have welcomed, but an unintended consequence of the Immigration Bill could be that more tenants are pushed towards the sorts of landlords who ask no questions and will rent poor quality accommodation to anyone who’ll pay the rent.
“Before the checks are extended to all new lettings in England, it is therefore vital that landlords are given training in how to carry them out – but there is very little time in which to do this.
“The start should be postponed until this is done, otherwise both tenants and landlords could fall foul of the new requirements.”
The CIH is also warning that immigration checks can be very complex – if the tenant doesn’t have an EU passport they could have any one of three dozen or more types of immigration document, or their paperwork could be with the Home Office.