Right to rent checks: a digital future
Right to rent checks in England moved temporarily online in March 2020 in line with Covid-19 safety measures - and the government has doubled down on this initiative with the introduction of an online platform, in this extract from our e-book, "Your guide to lettings and the law, Vol II".
The English right to rent checks on the immigration status of potential tenants, first introduced in 2016, are mandatory for letting agents and their landlords. Any agents or landlords accepting a tenant who doesn’t have the right to reside in the UK will leave themselves open to prosecution and potential unlimited fines.
The procedures to follow when undertaking right to rent checks in England have developed apace in recent months due to the pandemic. As of March 2020, the checks can temporarily take place via video call, rather than in person, using scanned documents or photos rather than the originals, with retrospective checks on new tenants from during this period now no longer required when the virtual checks come to an end on 20 June 2021.
“Obviously there were guidelines provided and I believe the industry took it on well,” says Chris Toynbee, Director at Redmayne, Arnold & Harris. “The recent relaxation of measures I hope will continue, to allow a little more judgement and flexibility to be applied going forward.”
That flexibility could offer extra support around the agent’s role in the checks. “Right to rent checks have always been fairly contentious from a letting agent’s perspective as we were expected to be a quasi-border control on behalf of the government with little or no training at all,” says Toynbee.
The ease with which these checks can be made online - especially if using bank-grade technology to verify the ID of the applicant and recognise any fraudulent documents - is supported by the government's launch of an online platform in November 2020.
This online platform will allow “checks to be carried out by video call, and landlords will not need to see documents as the right to rent information is provided in real time directly from Home Office systems,” explains Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Office, Chris Philp. Landlords will still need to complete a manual check if their tenant chooses not to use the online service.
Brexit is another external force which may yet have an impact on how these checks take place and the criteria which applicants should meet. Before the UK’s transition period comes to an end, agents are advised to continue the right to rent checks with nationals of the European Union as per the current requirements. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020 will have until 30 June 2021 to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme.
Until this deadline, landlords can accept passports and national identity cards of citizens from these areas as evidence of their right to rent during this period. After this period, the government has announced a new points based immigration system to come into force on 1 January 2021, which will require proof of a job offer at the required skill level from an approved sponsor, and that they speak English. However, the right to rent checks have still not been explicitly defined after the deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme passes.