Posted on May 08th 2013
A student from Nigeria wants to rent a flat for the final year of her studies in Liverpool. She’s so far been in University Halls of Residence, but in her final year she wants a flat on her own so she can properly concentrate on her dissertation. She finds a little studio in Toxteth and thinks she can afford the rent. The landlord is happy to rent it to her, but needs to check her immigration status to comply with the new regulations. He is alarmed to see only 10 months left on her visa, the contract for the flat is (as ever) a 12 month lease. He is sorry, but doesn’t want to risk contravening the rules and ends up letting the place to a UK resident.
This picture is neither far-fetched nor unusual in the future UK with the legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech this week.
A buy-to-let landlord in Brighton has a two bed flat near the border with Hove to let. It’s a fashionable part of town and there are 15 emails in his inbox when he gets home the evening the place is first advertised. He’s heard of these new regulations and the intimidating penalties he could face should he let the property to someone without the proper visa. To heighten his chances of a trouble free let he replies to the four applicants with obviously non-British sounding names and tells them the place has been rented. He then sets about selecting a tenant.
What David Cameron and Theresa May are planning here is a recipe for discrimination.
For a government that claims to be keen on slashing red tape, the added bureaucracy in this measure is quite spectacular. Following in the footsteps of vicars, college and university lecturers and admin staff, benefits workers and council staff, the Government want landlords, a very unregulated and chaotic section of society to start checking IDs and immigration status. It assumes that landlords are trustworthy and law abiding as tenants are forced to provide personal details and sensitive documentation. It places tenants at the mercy of rogue landlords. This will apply to all tenants as passports will be checked to ensure any claim to British nationality is genuine. Accordingly all tenants will be liable to extortion should their landlord be less than trustworthy. In the world of Cameron and May those with property to rent can automatically be trusted. This societal vision does not coincide with reality.
Honest landlords will be expected to be able to tell who’s in the country legally and who is not. This is something that even UKBA staff and police officers have got wrong repeatedly. Companies with contracts to remind overstayers to leave the UK have told people who have indefinite leave to remain that they must leave the country. It will be likely that landlords will turn to professional legal bodies for document checks, adding to the cost of renting accommodation.
Dealing with letting agents may become more popular as a result, but this again could easily see a rise in rents to cover the cost of paying an agent.
Will people on visitor visas find renting accommodation easy after these new rules? People coming in on the Points Based System for work will also be inconvenienced, and students such as the woman in our first scenario will face a big struggle to find suitable affordable accommodation. The policy appears cumbersome at first sight and unworkable under more scrutiny.
Placing such demands on landlords will make the UK a more unwelcoming place for migrants no matter what their status is within the immigration system. This is a move that is to the detriment of all concerned.