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Everything you need to know about ‘Right to Rent’ checks

By Anna-Maria Georgieva, 01 February 2016

The ‘Right to Rent’ check scheme was first introduced in the Immigration Act 2014. Its purpose is to help control illegal immigrants’ stay in England and make renting fairer for legal residents. As of the 1st February 2016 it becomes valid across the entire country.

  • Recent data from the Residential Landlord Association (RLA) revealed that:
  • 90% of landlords haven’t received any information from the government about the new changes;
  • 72% of landlords do not understand their new duties;
  • 50% weren’t prepared for the new changes;
  • 20% believed they have until April 2017 to prepare for them.

This article will explain what the ‘right to rent’ check scheme is; how to conduct a check; the penalties a landlord can face if they fail to conduct one; and what to do in case the tenant fails the check.

What is a ‘right to rent’ check?

It is a simple check a landlord should conduct in order to ensure that their tenant has a right to live in the UK. In this way, landlords can ensure that they won’t face civil penalties.

Tenants can be divided into 3 groups:

  • Those with an unlimited right to rent: British citizens or Swiss and European Economic Area (EAA) nationals, as well as those with a right of abode in the UK;
  • Those with a time-limited right to rent: Those who are not British citizens or Swiss and European Economic Area (EAA) nationals, but have valid leave to enter and remain in the UK for a limited amount of time (they will be able to produce documents to support this);
  • Those with no right to rent: A person does not have the right to rent in the UK if they require permission to reside in the UK but they don’t have it.

Landlords are not liable to civil penalties if their tenants fall within the first group. They are also not liable to penalties if their tenants fall within the second group as long as they have valid leave to reside in the UK.

For tenants with a time-limited right to rent, the landlord needs to do a follow up check either 12 months after the initial ‘right to rent’ check or before their tenant’s right to stay in the UK expires.

The check must be conducted for all adult tenants (over the age of 18) who pay to use your property, even if:

  • They are not named on the tenancy agreement;
  • There is no tenancy agreement;
  • the tenancy agreement is not in writing.

It applies to landlords who are letting or sub-letting their property, as well as to those who take in lodgers.

Student accommodation, whether university owned or privately owned, is exempt from the scheme. Long lease tenancy agreements (7 years or more) are also exempt from the scheme.

How is a ‘right to rent’ check conducted?

The landlord needs to make sure that the property they are letting to the tenant is going to be their main home. A person’s “main home” is considered to be the place where they:

  • Live most of the time;
  • Keep most of their belongings there;
  • Live with their partner and children;
  • Are registered to vote with that address;
  • Are registered with a doctor/dentist.

The landlord must see documents that support the tenant’s right to reside in the UK. The full list of acceptable documents (PDF) is available on the Home Office website.

Following on from this, the landlord needs to make sure that the documents are valid and genuine. This should be done in the presence of the tenant.

Lastly, the landlord needs to make clear copies of all relevant documents and keep them for the duration of the tenancy agreement and for another 12 months after the agreement expires and is not renewed. It is advisable to keep a record of when the check was initially made.

Landlords whose tenants fail to pass a ‘right to rent’ check should send a report to the Home Office with the following details:

  • Tenant’s full name, date of birth, and nationality
  • Address of the occupied property
  • Name and contact of the landlord
  • Name and contact of the agent who manages the property (if relevant)
  • Date on which the tenant first took up occupation

Once submitted, they will receive a unique reference number that should be kept as evidence that they conducted the check and followed procedure.

What are the penalties?

Landlords who fail to make ‘right to rent’ checks before they enter into an agreement with a tenant are liable to fines of up to £3,000 per tenant if they rented their property to people who don’t have a right to rent in the UK.

Furthermore, the new Immigration Bill contains additional power to target unscrupulous landlords by treating those who repeatedly fail to conduct ‘right to rent’ checks as criminal offenders. Such landlords could be faced with a jail sentence of up to 5 years.

The scheme only applies to tenancy agreements first entered into on, or after, the date on which the scheme is implemented.

Landlords who have entered into residential tenancy agreements before the set date are not required to take action.

Landlords who renew their tenancy agreements after the implementation of the scheme are not required to take action as long as there has been no break in their tenant’s right to occupy the premises.

Detailed information on the scheme is available on the Home Office website.

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