Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) (IB 13)

Immigration Bill 2015

1. The CLA is the membership organisation for owners of land, property and businesses in rural England and Wales, our membership owns 38% of Private Rented Sector (PRS) stock in rural areas and is a vital component of the UK housing market. As an organisation we do not believe private landlords – who are overwhelmingly individuals with only a few properties, are best paced to take on the role of immigration officials. If the Government intends to make it harder for people to live and work in the UK illegally we would recommend increasing the funding for immigration control services above the current figure of 0.25% of total Government expenditure.

2. Everyone needs somewhere to live no matter what their immigration status is. Restricting illegal migrants from renting in the PRS will inevitably push them into the hands of the same rogue landlords the Government has been trying to remove from the PRS. It has to be recognised that those who prey on vulnerable tenants at the bottom of the housing market will ignore their obligations and any possible threat of enforcement activity, and it is these unscrupulous landlords that will profit from this policy.

3. Clause 33C subsection 1 (a) and (b) states that a landlord could be imprisoned for up to five years if they meet the conditions set out in Clause 33A (2) and (3). Five years in prison and a possible fine for failing to identify or take action is an excessive sentencing guideline, and we would question why there is such a significant escalation in sentencing from the Immigration Act 2014 which deemed a £3,000 civil penalty to be sufficient. The report the Government commissioned of the right to rent pilot stated that the scheme had been effective in deterring illegal migrants from renting property privately, bringing into question why such a large sentence is necessary.

4. While there have been assurances that this increased sentence is for repeat offenders, the Bill does not explicitly refer to this, neither does it set in stone that the Home Office will not prosecute a landlord during the 28 day period during which the tenant would remain in the property after a notice of possession had been served.

5. We would suggest that before any criminal proceedings, consideration is given to the vast difference in size of landlords in the PRS and how this could lead to them falling foul of these new obligations. For landlords with only a few properties there is a risk that they will not be sufficiently familiar with the myriad of identity documents they could potentially encounter, leaving them vulnerable to unintentionally fall foul of the law despite their best intentions. Conversely, larger landlords with sizeable portfolios are more likely to be exposed to document forgery on the part of tenants, administrative error or a genuine oversight due to the large numbers of properties they let out.

6. Tenants who have the right to rent but do not have the appropriate documentation will be adversely affected by this legislation, it is only natural to expect landlords to accept those tenants who can present the correct identity papers. This was why the CLA advocated Local Authorities issuing prospective tenants with a certificate that would demonstrate their right to rent.

7. The Bill is not sufficiently clear on what right of appeal a landlord or tenant has following service of a notice by the Secretary of State. It is unrealistic to assume that the Home Office will not make mistakes when carrying out their duties. We recognise that the Bill states the tenant has 28 days to vacate the property following serving of the notice, and most erroneous notifications from the Home Office would be rectified during this time. However there needs to be a more formal process that does not put the burden on the tenant to have to resort to Judicial Review or some other process.

October 2015

Prepared 27th October 2015