From 1 February, landlords will become responsible for vetting their tenant's legal right to be in the UK under the government’s new right to rent scheme. Here's our handy Q&A.

Q. What is right to rent?

A. Right to rent is a new set of rules which puts the onus on landlords to check their tenant (or lodger) has the legal right to rent in the UK. It’s being introduced in England by the government as part of The Immigration Act 2014 to clamp down on illegal migrants.

Q. When does it kick off?

A. Right to rent applies to all tenancies starting on or after 1 February, 2016. Landlords with property in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton have been making checks on their tenant’s right to rent since 1 December, 2014. These areas were selected for the pilot scheme which is now being rolled out nationally.

Q. How do I know if I’m officially a ‘landlord’?

A. In the government’s own words, a landlord is someone who, “lets accommodation for use by one or more adults as their only or main home”. If you take in lodgers, sublet an existing rental property or even act on behalf of a landlord, this means you too.

Q. What if I use a lettings agent?

A. If you use a lettings agent to let your property, right to rent checks will be their responsibility. However, this must be agreed with the agent in writing or you could still be held responsible.

Q. What type of tenants should I check?

A. Any and every potential tenant aged over 18, regardless of whether they are British and even if they are not named in the tenancy agreement. All tenancy agreements are affected, not just Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreements (ASTAs).

Q. Who has the right to rent?

A. There are two groups of people that have the right to rent in the UK; those with unlimited right to rent and those with a time-limited right to rent. Here’s the difference:

  • Unlimited right to rent: This group includes British citizens, EEA (European Economic Area) nationals or Swiss nationals. It also refers to people who have the right of abode in the UK and those that have been granted indefinite leave to remain, or have no time limit on their stay in the UK.
  • Time-limited right to rent: Anyone who falls outside the above categories will have a time-limited right to rent (so long as they also have valid leave to enter or remain in the UK for a limited period of time.) Time-limited right to renters also include people that are permitted to enter or remain in the UK as a result of Acts of Parliament, European Union Treaties and Immigration Regulation.

Q. So, who doesn’t have the right to rent?

A. In short, anyone seeking residential accommodation who requires permission to be in the UK – but does not have it. If you find the potential tenant does not have the right to rent, you must not offer them accommodation.

Q. How do I make a check?

A. By walking through the following steps:

1. Confirm that the tenants will be using your home as their main residence.

2. Gather original supporting documents from your tenant to verify their identity and their right to rent in the UK. Documents could include a passport or driving licence and birth certificate – and/or, if the tenant is time-limited, a residence card, visa and/or immigration status.

More details around the documents you need, as well as a printable checklist, are available in this Home Office user guide while this Home Office video may also help.

Note: You will need to check all documents are valid in the presence of the tenant.

3. Record the date you made the check and keep all copies of the documents for at least 12 months after the tenancy ends.

4. If the tenant has an ongoing immigration application or appeal, the Home Office will run a free right to rent check on your behalf.

Note: If your tenant is categorised as time-limited, you’ll need to make follow-up checks before either:

  • Your tenant’s permission to stay in the UK expires
  • 12 months has passed since your previous check

If your follow-up check reveals your tenant no longer has the right to rent, you must make a report to the Home Office.

Q. When does the right to rent check need to be made?

A. You’ll have to conduct your right to rent check within 28 days before the start of a new tenancy. But if it’s being arranged from overseas, you’ll need to carry out the documents before the tenant moves in.

Q. What happens if I ignore right to rent rules?

A. If you are found to be letting your property to someone without the right to rent in the UK – and you are unable to show you carried out the correct checks – you could be stung with a fine of up to £3,000. Find out more about the penalties for illegal renting here.

Q. Are there any exemptions to right to rent?

A. The right to rent rules only apply to private landlords, so local authorities social housing, care homes, hospitals and hospices for example, will all be exempt. Student accommodation also falls outside the rules as do temporary holiday lets.

However, the Home Office recommends that if your property is being let for three months or longer, this could indicate it’s being used as a main residence, so checks should be carried out regardless.

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