The latest Immigration Bill is continuing to work its way through the Commons and House of Lords. The Bill will introduce tough new criminal sanctions for Landlords and their Agents under the right to rent rules. At present Landlords and Agents face fines of up to £3,000 per tenant where the right to rent rules have not been followed. However, the new law makes it a criminal offence (attracting a custodial sentence of up to 5 years or criminal fines) to rent out to a tenant who is disqualified as a result of their immigration status.
Following lobbying of the government from various interest groups the Bill has been amended and now includes a new defence for Landlords (although not their agents). Landlords will now be protected from prosecution where:
- They can show that they have taken reasonable steps to terminate the tenancy;
- Those steps were taken within a reasonable period of time following the Landlord first becoming aware, or having reasonable cause to be aware, that the premises were being occupied by a tenant without the right to rent.
The Bill also confirms that new guidance will be published to clarify what are considered ‘reasonable steps’ and what will be a ‘reasonable period of time’. Courts will have to take into account this guidance when deciding whether Landlords have made out a defence against prosecution under the new provisions.
The transition of the right to rent scheme from one of imposing civil penalties to criminal prosecution, shows the seriousness with which the government are pursuing their agenda of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for those without immigration status in the UK.
Mark Lilley-Tams, Immigration Lawyer at Paragon Law who provide a service to check tenant’s right to rent, said ‘The concern is that Landlords are getting caught in the firing line as they are being forced to carry out a role of immigration enforcement without having been given any training in the area. Landlords will now be required to familiarise themselves with another set of rules and further guidance published by the government, this time with the risk of criminal prosecution if they get it wrong.’
It is unclear at this stage when the new criminal rules will come into force. At present the Bill only proposes that the new laws will apply within England, although the government will have the discretion to extend them to Scotland and Wales in future.