What is a Right to Rent Check?

As of February 2016, private landlords have a regulatory obligation to verify that prospective tenants have the legal right to rent in the UK. These checks were introduced following The Immigration Act 2014, the key text underpinning legislative efforts to clamp down on illegal immigrants.

The responsibility to conduct checks is usually delegated to whichever lettings agent has been instructed to act on the landlord’s behalf. If you are a landlord, it is advisable to always check the Terms of Business provided by your agent to ensure that they have accepted liability in writing. If the contract makes no reference to right to rent checks, it will be the landlord who bears ultimate responsibility.

Who to Check?

It is necessary to check all prospective tenants aged 18 and over. This remains the case even if they are not named on the tenancy agreement, or if the tenancy agreement is not in writing. The checks apply equally to British and non-British applicants. It is against the law to only apply checks if you believe a tenant is not a British citizen.

Who has the Right to Rent?

People with the right to rent in the UK fall into two categories:

-          Statutory Right to Rent: Those with a statutory right (i.e unlimited) to rent are British citizens, EU/EEA nationals, Swiss nationals, or those who have been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK (occasionally this might appear on a visa as no time limit).

-          Time-limited Right to Rent: Individuals with a time-limited right to rent are people who are not British, EU/EEA, or Swiss nationals who have been granted valid leave to remain in the UK for a limited time (on a work visa, for example), or who are entitled to remain as a result of Acts of Parliament, European Union Treaties, and Immigration regulations.

If the prospective tenant is a Commonwealth citizen but does not have the correct documents, then check with the Home Office – it is possible that they still have a statutory right to rent in the UK. See here for further guidance when renting to Windrush immigrants.

When to Check?

Right to rent checks must be conducted within 28 days of the start of the new tenancy. If your tenant has a time-limited right to rent, you must perform additional checks either when the right to rent is due to expire or after 12 months following the initial inspection. At Home Made, we conduct in-person checks with tenants at our central London office (though we can facilitate checks anywhere in the city if required) as soon as possible after an offer is agreed.

How to Check?

In order to perform the necessary checks, either the landlord or their agent must obtain original documents from each prospective adult tenant, validate the authenticity of the document in the presence of the holder, make copies which clearly state the date on which checks were made, and retain the copies for 12 months following the end of the tenancy.

What to Check?

In most cases checking the prospective tenant’s passport will suffice. All UK and EU/EEA passport holders hold a statutory right to rent, and many of those with a time-limited right to rent will have their visa stamped or glued into their passport. However, there is an overwhelming number of documents (and potential combinations thereof) that can be offered by prospective tenants to verify their right to rent. This list includes everything from birth certificates to letters issued by the UK police force confirming that the holder is the victim of a crime. A printable checklist of valid documents can be found here.

What Happens If I Don’t Check?

There is a potential penalty of £3,000 if you cannot demonstrate that adequate checks were carried out prior to letting your property. If a person is living in the UK illegally and they are found to be living in private rented accommodation, the landlord and/or agent will be served with a Referral Notice advising that their liability for a civil penalty is being investigated. If it cannot subsequently be demonstrated that the necessary checks were made, the party at fault will be issued with a Civil Penalty Notice.

While many , the Home Office acknowledges that landlords and agents are not trained immigration experts and are unlikely to possess detailed knowledge of immigration documents. They also recognise in their official Right to Rent Guide that it is not easy to detect sophisticated forgeries presented by those who have set out to deceive. A civil penalty will only be issued if obviously false documents have been accepted (grounds for suspicion would be implausible dates of birth, photographs that bear no resemblance to the holder).

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Jess Brookes

Operations Associate at Home Made