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Landlords in West Midlands first to carry out immigration checks

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Landlords in the West Midlands will be forced to check if new tenants are illegal immigrants or risk being fined £3,000, from today.

The Right to Rent scheme piloted in the Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton areas is expected to be rolled out across the UK next year.

Under the rules of the initiative the responsibility for checking a prospective tenant’s identity and citizenship falls to the landlord.

A government website has been set up where tenants can request further checks in instances where a passport cannot be produced.

Immigration and security minister James Brokenshire said: “We are building an immigration system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who abuse the system or flout the law.

“The Right to Rent checks will be quick and simple, but will make it more difficult for immigration offenders to stay in the country when they have no right to be here.”

Brokenshire went on to say that the measures will also act as a new line of attack against unscrupulous landlords who exploit people by renting out overcrowded and unsafe accommodation.

Mary Latham, West Midland representative for the National Landlords Association, said: “It’s important that landlords are aware of what will be expected of them in order to avoid falling foul of the law and getting hit with a costly fine. It is already best practice to conduct thorough checks on prospective tenants, but the new laws will require landlords to check original ID documents of their tenants and to retain copies as proof that a check has been carried out.”

Latham warned that as the lettings market is a very competitive arena, it is entirely conceivable that landlords could end up favouring ‘low risk’ tenants or those whose legal right to reside in the UK is clear cut.

She said: “Therefore the NLA advises all landlords to look at the home office’s guidance on unlawful discrimination as well as the code of practice, which includes a list of acceptable documents to use to verify a tenants immigration status and demonstrates how to avoid breaching the law.”

Simon Kenny, a senior solicitor in the immigration department at Moore Blatch, warned that surveys indicate there is widespread lack of knowledge about these provisions.

He said: “Even for those who are familiar with the detail of the changes, I would anticipate mistakes will be common. This still happens frequently in respect of checks on employees, which have been required for almost 20 years. The concerns expressed about landlords becoming open to civil or criminal penalties have yet to be resolved.

“Landlords in the West Midlands should assess immediately whether the current referencing checks they make cover this in order to protect themselves from any liability. Those elsewhere should watch developments closely; this is the first time such legislation has been attempted in the UK and the results of the current pilot may well determine if this will be introduced elsewhere.”

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