As might have been expected, there was general uproar from many landlord stakeholders who felt that immigration checks would add more red tape for landlords to wade through. However, the NLA’s response to the announcement was somewhat different to the general consensus.
The NLA welcomed the government’s integrated approach to tackling abuses of the housing system and their recognition that private-landlords can play an important part in creating sustainable, diverse communities. Despite the understandable scepticism of many in the industry we see this announcement as a sign of the genuine progress made by private housing providers in terms of perception; it underlines the industry’s growing profession status.
However, this is not to say that we are blind to the potential pitfalls. As of yet, we are unclear as to exactly what will be required of landlords but as we see it, every landlord should thoroughly reference a tenant prior to offering a tenancy; this is standard best practice which safeguards the landlord’s business.
Tenant checks should include not only an identity check, as suggested, but also whether the tenant has any County Court Judgments, possible aliases and include references from their employer and a previous landlord. These checks should highlight any immigration irregularities and so the plans outlined in the Queen’s Speech should not require landlords to do any more than is already required of them through best practice.
Whatever comes of these proposals, it is important to acknowledge that landlords are not border-guards and should not be alone in this process. Local authorities and national agencies must undertake robust intelligence-led targeted enforcement, otherwise those who are refused housing by reputable landlords will face homelessness or be pushed straight into arms of the criminals who deliberately exploit vulnerable people. The government needs to work with the sector to ensure that this does not fuel the businesses of those operating outside of the law.
We understand that detailed policy is yet to be formulated, but there are rumours that ministers are divided about how this can be made to work. It appears that whatever materialises, the requirements on landlords are unlikely to exceed those checks already undertaken by a responsible landlord or letting agent.
Above all, the policy needs to work in practice for landlords and tenants and the NLA is keen to work with policy makers to ensure that the private-rented sector can continue to play a positive role in the community.
Chris Norris is head of policy at the National Landlords Association