UK Government Immigration Policy Is Scaring Landlords Off Renting to Tenants Without Passports

Nearly half of landlords are less likely to consider renting to someone without a British passport, as a result of a government scheme, new research claims.

The study by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) trade body found that the government's Right to Rent rules are putting off 42 percent of landlords from letting properties to tenants without British documentation, according to a Times article by the RLA's policy director David Smith.

This could prevent the 17 percent of legitimate U.K. residents who do not have a passport from finding rented accommodation.

Smith said: "This proves what we have long argued, that the Right to Rent scheme would cause difficulties for legitimate tenants who cannot easily prove their identity.

Homeless People Streets Manchester
A homeless man on the streets of Manchester on December 11, 2017 in Manchester, England. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

An even higher 49 percent of landlords were less likely to rent to tenants who have permission to remain in the U.K. for a limited time, according to the research.

Under the Right to Rent policy, launched in February 2016, landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of tenants to ensure they have the right to rent in the U.K.

Landlords can face prosecution if they know or have "reasonable cause to believe" their property is being occupied by someone without this legal right.

The RLA—the country's main landlord organisation, which surveyed almost 2,800 landlords for the research—wants the scheme to be paused while a review of its impact on tenants is carried out.

"Faced with the fear of criminal sanctions many landlords are understandably playing it safe," Smith said. "Given the scale of the housing crisis, any policy that makes it harder for those legally able to access the homes they need is a travesty."

Responding to the RLA research, a Home Office spokesperson said: "It is in everyone's interest that we tackle illegal immigration. The Right to Rent scheme is just one of the ways in which we are making it more difficult for those with no right to be in the U.K. to live and work here. These latest statistics make clear that where illegal migrants are found to be renting property, we are taking action.

"We regularly meet with representatives from the private rented sector such as local authorities, landlords and housing charities, to discuss and monitor the scheme. This ensures that levels of awareness are good and that checks are being routinely carried out."

A BBC investigation in October found that the Right to Rent rules were fuelling a black market in forged IDs, sold to undocumented immigrants by criminal gangs.

The RLA are concerned that this will make landlords even more reluctant to rent to overseas nationals or those without a U.K. passport, in fear of prosecution for getting things wrong.

Earlier this month Oxford University's Migration Observatory reported that the foreign-born population is almost three times as likely to be in the private rental sector compared to the U.K.-born—41 percent compared to 15 percent. Given this, the RLA say the Right to Rent scheme is "creating difficulties" for the foreign-born population in finding accomodation.

In October, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration announced a review of the Right to Rent scheme, but warned that it "will not examine any unintended consequences of Right to Rent" including "discrimination against would-be tenants."

It said this was because it "does not have the capacity to conduct a meaningful examination of the unintended consequences of RtR at this time."

Of this decision, Smith added: "It is absurd to conduct a review of the scheme without looking at all the consequences. That is why it is vital that the Home Office suspends the scheme pending a full and detailed assessment of its impact on tenants and prospective tenants."

Asylum seekers and immigrants face numerous problems when arriving in the U.K. In 2016, the British Red Cross revealed a record number of asylum seekers in the U.K. were left destitute and without adequate access to food, housing and healthcare.