Immigration Bill

Written evidence from the British Property Federation (IB 32)

Summary

The British Property Federation (BPF) recognises the Government’s desire to explore new ways of tacking illegal immigration. We are however concerned by the proposals requiring landlords to verify a tenants’ right to reside in the UK. We believe the proposals as currently presented constitute a disproportionate burden on the landlord and tenant compared to their likely outcome for immigration control.

We recommend thorough testing and research prior to the implementation of these proposals, given the likely pitfalls both in landlords’ knowledge of identification documents and the capacity of the Home Office to provide effective, real-time support. Furthermore we suggest that there be a sun-setting clause, to expire after three years, should the proposals prove ineffective. Should the proposals go ahead, we call on Government to mitigate the extent of the burden on the Private Rented Sector (PRS) with two primary alterations: firstly, replacing the requirement to conduct on-going status checks with a voluntary whistle-blowing system, and secondly, allowing a compliance period of two weeks after occupancy, during which landlords can explore documents and record them, before they are open to prosecution.

1. The BPF is the trade association for property investors in the UK. We represent many of the leading UK Private rented sector (PRS) landlords. In addition, we also represent local smaller landlord associations, who affiliate to us. Nationally, we have 15,000+ members in direct or indirect membership, and they own or manage over 200,000 homes.

2. The BPF accepts that it is the prerogative of any Government to explore new ways of policing illegal immigration, including using landlords.

3. However, the only valid tests as to whether such a policy should proceed are a) will it prove effective and, b) what other consequences will result? A policy that has landlords checking every prospective new adult being housed in their property is an unjustifiable burden if it doesn’t work.

4. Citing ‘beds in sheds’ is a distraction and weak justification for this policy as there are few incidences of this compared to the number of new tenancies entered into annually. As these checks will apply to every new tenancy and include all adult householders, several million checks will be made per annum, a vastly disproportionate response to this issue.

5. Comparisons with the checks that employers have to make are also not particularly insightful. Most employees, unlike tenants come with official documentation in the form of a P45 from their previous employer, or other documentation that will have a national insurance number.

6. Has the Government tested whether landlords will recognise the myriad of documents they will need to be familiar with? An effective policy will only result if landlords recognise a wide variety of what can be very complex documents. To ensure policy is evidence based the Government should research whether landlords and agents can recognise various documents and their consequences. We suggest the Government conduct such research so it can be scrutinised as part of the Bill process. Failing that, prudent policymaking would proceed on the basis of a pilot, not a ‘phased introduction’ which implies proceeding regardless of teething problems.

7. The European Union recognises 404 legitimate means of personal identification (see Annex 1), and that is just from the European Union, Iceland and Norway. That list does not include documents from the rest of the world. Is the Government expecting landlords to be familiar with all of them?

8. Would your average man in the street be able identify a Greek Passport, which has no written English on the front cover? Would they know that someone from the Republic of Cyprus can freely enter the UK, but someone from Northern Cyprus requires a visa just to enter, let alone stay? Would they know that a Bulgarian has every right to remain in the UK, but that a US citizen does not? Would they know the rules that determine whether a spouse can remain or not?

9. The UK Government does not help migrant identification with a vast array of different identity documents specific to the UK. There are 64 different documents (see Annex 2) – from residence permits and certificates of abode, to travel documents and certificates of identity, to leave to remain documents and 32 forms of passport, including variants for citizens of places like Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar. Surely simplification is needed here?

10. An effective policy will require quite a lot of resources to appropriately man a real-time helpline and communicate this new policy which will impact on roughly 1.67 million transactions each year. What assurance can the Government provide that appropriate resources will be made available to fully achieve these objectives? Parliament should scrutinise thoroughly whether there are appropriate resources provided at the earliest stages of the Bill. Too often resource is an after-thought and as result legislation ineffective.

11. Where required, the check is likely to be added as an outsourced function and it is likely the referencing agencies that currently provide for landlords and agents would add this on to their service.  The cost would be borne by prospective tenants, the vast majority of whom are not illegal immigrants. The cost will probably be quite modest per individual, but unhelpful to tenants and landlords at a time when tenants' ability to meet outgoings is stretched. Has anyone asked tenant representative bodies whether their members are prepared to pay for the policing of our borders?

12. If it is to follow the established workplace scheme, then given landlords routinely ask for employer references, it should be possible to remove the need to commission checks for genuine UK employees and, by extension, the majority of the checks. Therefore the brunt of the costs indicated in 13 could be avoided, provided a sensible hurdle can be agreed as to what constitutes an acceptable workplace reference. This would remove a lot of the opposition to the scheme and should make it better targeted.  Otherwise all that is happening is that employers and landlords are being taxed to provide the same information on the same individuals.

13. Most illegal immigrants are already in this country, and therefore if the policy is effective, it should be apparent relatively quickly. If ever there was a law ripe for sun-setting – which is Government policy – this is it. We suggest this new law should therefore be sunset after three years so that Parliament can consider its effectiveness, and only renew it if it is proving effective.

14. Landlords are not the nation’s immigration police nor are they private detectives. With only 8% off all landlords in the country stating that being a landlord is their full time job [1] ; it is unrealistic to expect them to carry out continuous checks on tenants.

15. Landlords should only be required to conduct checks upon first entry to a property and not have to check tenants’ on-going visa status. There should, however, be a voluntary whistle-blowing system for landlords to report those who are overstaying.

16. If this system is to work fairly, there will need to be completely clear guidance on where the landlord’s responsibility ends, and on how far a reasonable landlord must go to discharge their responsibility.

17. Many migrants are only allowed residence in the UK, because they are partners of a British citizen or someone from abroad who has a right to live in this country. That will create complications when checking documents, but exposes a significant problem with the legislation. If the partner who has a right to reside separates from their partner and leaves the family home, a landlord could be prosecuted for housing an illegal migrant even although they may have no knowledge of the couple’s separation. Surely the Government is not suggesting that landlords should be taking an interest in peoples’ nuptials?

18. Various scenarios suggest it is unrealistic to expect instant compliance, with landlords checking and recording documents before tenants take up occupancy. We suggest there should be a compliance period of two weeks after occupancy, where landlords can explore documents and record them (take photocopies, etc), before they are open to prosecution.

19. Smaller landlords and those letting out to lodgers are not that different. There should be no differentiation in fines, or policy, between landlords and those householders providing accommodation to lodgers.

20. Even if the proposals work, they raise other significant concerns. Suppose a landlord does find an illegal immigrant standing in front of them, what do they do? Confront them, or keep them busy with a cuppa whilst they tip off the authorities? Some landlords are retired widows. What danger are we putting them in? Will discrimination increase? Won’t this law simply drive more people underground and into the hands of criminals who are prepared to house them in squalid conditions?

Annex

1. Council of the European Union: Public Register of Authentic Identity and Travel Documents Online – Search by Issuing Country – http://prado.consilium.europa.eu/en/searchByIssuingCountry.html

2. Council of the European Union: Public Register of Authentic Identity and Travel Documents Online – Search by Issuing Country, GBR - United Kingdom, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – http://prado.consilium.europa.eu/en/categories/showAllCategories_GBR.html

November 2013


[1] Communities and Local Government Private Landlords Survey 2010

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/7249/2010380.pdf

Prepared 18th November 2013