The scheme, which became law yesterday, makes it mandatory for private landlords to check a new tenant’s identity documents to ensure they have the right to live in the UK.
If property owners cannot prove the checks have been made, landlords renting out properties can be charged as much as £1,000 for a first offence, while landlords with lodgers can be fined up to £80. If offences are repeated, charges can go up to £3,000 and £1,000 respectively.
However, figures from the Home Office show that just nine penalties were issued in almost a year during the trial period covering the city of Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton.
The penalties totaled £9,480, of which £4,057 had been collected by the end of November.
Sumita Gupta, head of immigration in Manchester for law firm Simpson Millar, said: “Given that the pilot covered an area with more than two million people it is hard to see how the scheme has had any significant financial impact at all. Rather, it has the potential to create a culture of fear and discrimination.”
Gupta said the scheme opens up a channel for rogue landlords to exploit a vulnerable group of people who might otherwise find it difficult to secure accommodation and end up homeless.
She said enforcement should be dealt with by appropriate agencies, and that UK Visas and Immigrations is outsourcing its responsibility and putting it onto the shoulders of private landlords, agencies and sub-letters.
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association (NLA), said: “It is already best practice to carry out thorough checks of prospective tenants before offering tenancy agreements, so the vast majority of private landlords will continue to let responsibly and to those who have the right to be here.”
He said it is important to remember that landlords are neither immigration experts nor border agents.
“If Right to Rent means that there will be greater resources to tackle those who knowingly ignore the law and let to people who are in the UK illegally then obviously that is a positive outcome.
“Still, it remains to be seen what difference the checks will make in preventing the small minority from exploiting the vulnerable and the impact the process will have on the wider market,” he said.