Badly drafted Immigration Bill will have to be amended, minister concedes

The Immigration Bill has been so badly drafted that it would have allowed legalised squatting.

Clause 17 of the Bill, as it stands, makes it impossible for landlords who have breached the requirement to check the immigration status of their tenants, to enforce payment of rent or take back possession of the property – meaning that a tenant could continue to live there rent-free.

The Residential Landlords Association has now drawn the attention of immigration minister Mark Harper to the wording – and the clause is to be rewritten.

During a meeting with Harper, the RLA argued that, as worded, landlords faced a double penalty for breaches of the legislation – potentially facing a fine and being unable to evict the tenant or demand rent.

Even landlords who did check identity documents and therefore did not have to pay a fine could have found themselves unable to enforce rent or get rid of their tenant, says the RLA.

If a landlord had failed to spot forgeries, they would have lost their right to claim rent on the property while a tenant living illegally in the country remained pending deportation or an appeal.

Writing to RLA chairman Alan Ward, the minister said: “I agree that the wording of clause 17, when read in isolation from the rest of the Bill and when taken with recent case law, does risk introducing some potential ambiguity in relation to the wider validity of a tenancy contract.

“I share the Association’s concern to avoid this occurring and I am pleased to inform you that I intend to table a technical amendment at the Commons Committee stage which will make clear that nothing in this chapter affects the validity of any residential tenancy agreement.”

Ward said: “Landlords will welcome the minister’s decision to introduce an amendment to provide the protection sought by the RLA.

“We are now working to ensure landlords are only responsible for checking a tenant’s right to rent at the start of the contract and will not be expected to monitor their status throughout the tenancy.”

Separately, UKALA has voiced the concerns of letting agents about the Immigration Bill in an evidence session to MPs.

Speaking after the evidence session, UKALA executive Caroline Kenny said: “Whilst letting agents are well equipped to carry our checks, and do so on behalf of landlord clients every day, the legal requirement to periodically monitor and report on the immigration status of tenants could affect their ability to conduct business and the safety of their staff.

“UKALA is deeply concerned that the Bill’s requirements will further restrict access to housing for people from outside of the UK, or with non-standard requirements. Many areas of the UK have very competitive lettings markets and it is entirely conceivable that landlords will instruct agents to favour those tenants they perceive as ‘low risk’.

“UKALA agrees that landlords and letting agents should act responsibly to ensure that only tenants with the proper permission to reside in the UK are granted new private tenancies. However, we believe it is not appropriate to make housing professionals responsible for policing country’s borders”.

Article courtesy of Letting Agent Today

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