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UK’s Right to Rent checks affecting int’l students

Fears that legislation mandating that landlords check tenants’ right to rent in England may deter some landlords from letting to foreign nationals – including international students – appear to have been realised, as two national surveys suggest some landlords are doing just that.

As part of the right to rent checks, prospective tenants are asked to produce an eligible passport, birth certificate, immigration documents or a biometric data card. Photo: Alex Pepperhill.

Landlords can face a fine of up to £3,000 or jail time if they fail to verify that prospective tenants are legally allowed to live in the UK

In a survey of 108 landlords by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, half (51%) said that the Right to Rent scheme has made them less likely to consider renting to foreign nationals.

And in a second survey of 57 student landlords in England by StudentTenant.com, nearly a quarter (23%) said they would be less likely to rent to an international student now than before the checks were introduced.

Under legislation that came into force in February 2016, landlords can face a fine of up to £3,000 or jail time if they fail to verify that prospective tenants are legally allowed to live in the UK.

They must do this by asking tenants to produce an eligible passport, birth certificate, immigration documents or a biometric data card.

“There is no evidence that it is doing anything to tackle irregular immigration”

But StudentTenant.com’s survey suggests this some landlords are being over-cautious, as more than three-quarters of those surveyed (76%) said they would not consider a tenant who was unable to immediately produce this documentation immediately.

The survey also revealed that landlords are divided as to whether or not they believe the changes help to identify people who are in the UK illegally.

Close to half (47%) said they don’t think the tenant checks will have a “genuine impact on filtering out illegal immigrants”, while just over a third (36%) believe there will be an impact.

Alarmingly, although the majority of landlords surveyed said they were aware of the Right to Rent changes, 16% said they were not. A further 2% were unsure whether or not they had known about the changes.

“When the new Right to Rent regulations were introduced there was uproar amongst the landlord community, because of the supposedly unfair burden placed on them in relation to enforcing immigration laws,” commented Danielle Cullen, managing director at StudentTenant.com.

“I have to say that the apparent ineffective implementation of the regulations so far seems to have warranted that uproar, particularly given the adverse effects on the international community legally residing within the UK.”

The UK Council for International Student Affairs was among the organisations that warned the Right to Rent scheme could make life difficult for international students. Before the nationwide rollout, its chief executive, Dominic Scott, said the scheme entailed a “clear risk of discrimination”.

However, Scott said the association has not received many reports of international students being affected by the policy so far.

“We have been surprised that we have not had more reports of difficulties for international students as we warned at an early stage that they would face problems,” he told The PIE News.

This may be because managed student accommodation (such as that belonging to universities) is exempt from the policy, he said, but added: “Clearly many of those using the private sector are facing what looks like direct or indirect discrimination.”

The JCWI study appears to highlight broader issues with the scheme and landlords’ response.

Forty-two per cent of landlords said they would be less likely to rent to someone without a British passport as a result of the Right to Rent regulations. This rose to 48% when survey participants were explicitly asked to consider the sanctions they might face for violating the regulations.

This is despite the fact that a British passport is only one of the documents that would provide assurance that a tenant is legally allowed to live in England.

As well as the 51% of respondents who said they would be less likely to rent to a foreign national from outside the EU, 18% said they would be less likely to rent to European nationals as a result of the scheme.

Saira Grant, chief executive of JCWI, said the study demonstrates the Right to Rent scheme is “failing on all fronts”.

“It treats many groups who need housing unfairly, it is clearly discriminatory, it is putting landlords in an impossible position, and there is no evidence that it is doing anything to tackle irregular immigration,” she said.

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