Right to Rent: Documents Landlords Need to Check before the Tenancy Begins

Since February 2016, landlords have had a new job. As well as being a landlord, you are also an immigration officer for the government!

The Immigration Act 2014 imposed on all landlords in England (including lodger landlords) the obligation to find out whether the proposed occupants have a ‘right to rent’ property in the UK.

The regulations do not apply – at the moment – in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Since 2014, the checks have been criticised by the High Court for being “discriminatory”, with “little or no effect” on immigration. They are part of the Conservative Party’s hostile environment policy. 

The need to carry the checks out in person was suspended at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, although landlords with properties in England must still perform right to rent checks online. No plans have been announced to end the checks or allow online checks to continue after social distancing measures are relaxed.

What You Need to Do

Landlords must check whether potential tenants or lodgers (occupants) have the right to rent by inspecting certain documents in their presence. 

You can find a list of acceptable right to rent documents at the end of this article. The table lists all the kinds of documents that tenants can use in a right to rent check. There is also a gov guide here. You need to read the guidance and follow it every time you sign up occupants for a new rental property or lodging. 

Who You Need to Check

You need to check not only tenants/lodgers but all occupiers in the property, apart from underage children. This includes:

  • Other family members
  • Adult children
  • Carers
  • Live in staff / help

So far as children are concerned, it’s best to get proof of age as teenagers’ appearances can be deceptive.

When You Need to Do the Check

You are supposed to perform the check before the tenant moves into the property. Usually, you need to see the original documents and have the occupier in front of you personally while you do the check, although the check can be performed via video call during the coronavirus pandemic. 

You need to keep a record of the results of the check, copies of the documents you were shown, and details of any questions you ask and the answers you are given. You can use this record to prove you performed the checks if you are ever challenged.

If for some reason the tenancy agreement has to be signed in advance of the right to rent check being done, you need to include a clause making the agreement conditional upon a satisfactory right to rent check on all occupiers. This way, the tenancy agreement will no longer be effective if the tenant cannot demonstrate their right to rent, meaning you will be off the hook. 

Things You Need to Watch Out for When Doing the Check

You are not expected to do a forensic examination of the documents to spot forgeries which are not obvious. You are, however, expected to be alert to the possibility of illegality. 

For example, you need to check that any photo on an ID document looks like the person in front of you. Be suspicious if documents are very crumpled as this may be an attempt to disguise a forgery. So, too, should your suspicions be aroused if the tenants are taking on a property that appears to be too big for them – are they looking to take in unauthorised people e.g. as lodgers? You need to ask them and keep a record of the answer they give.

Even if you have no issue with the tenant taking in lodgers, remember that these measures are sensible to show you are complying with the rules set out in the Immigration Act. 

Penalties for Landlords Who Fail to Perform Right to Rent Checks

If you let tenants into occupation without doing the check, you are taking a risk. If the Home Office later find that the tenants do not have the right to live in the UK, then you will be at risk of a penalty fine or (for cases the Home Office consider more serious) prosecution and a custodial sentence.

The penalty fines are £1,000 for a first offence and £3,000 for any subsequent offences. Or if you are a lodger landlord, the amounts are £80 and £500.

If you have done the check and are able to provide proof of this, then even if the tenants are in this country illegally – you will be protected. You have complied with the law and are safe from the penalties.

The checks need to be done before the tenants go into occupation because if they are done afterwards, there is nothing you can do if the tenants turn out to be illegal immigrants. They will be your tenants and have a right to live in the property.

List of Acceptable Right to Rent Documents

TYPE A1: Single Documents Showing an Unlimited Right to Rent

UK PassportEEA/Swiss National Passport/Identity CardRegistration Certificate or document certifying permanent residence of EEA/Swiss national
EEA/Swiss family member Permanent Residence CardBiometric Residence Permit with unlimited leavePassport or travel document endorsed with unlimited leave
UK immigration status document endorsed with unlimited leaveCertificate of naturalisation or registration as a British citizen 

TYPE A2: Any Two of the Following Show an Unlimited Right to Rent

UK birth or adoption certificateFull/provisional UK driving licenseA letter from HM Prison Service
A letter from a UK Government Department or Local AuthorityA letter from the National Offender Management ServiceEvidence or current or previous service in UK armed forces
A letter from a police force confirming certain documents have been reported stolenA letter from a private rented sector access schemeA letter of attestation from an employer
A letter from a UK further or higher education institutionA letter of attestation from a UK passport holder working in an acceptable professionBenefits paperwork
Criminal Record Check  

TYPE B: Documents Showing a Time-Limited Right to Rent

Valid Passport endorsed with a time-limited periodBiometric immigration document with permission to stay for time-limited periodNon-EEA national residence card
UK immigration status document with a time-limited endorsement from Home Office  

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa Shepperson Landlord Law Blog Author

Tessa is a specialist landlord & tenant lawyer.  More of her writings can be found on the Landlord Law Blog.  She also runs the popular Landlord Law online service.

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This article is not intended to form legal or investment advice. Investments in property are not guaranteed and can decrease in value as well as increase.

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