Migrant tenant checks could lead to discrimination

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The head of a prominent regional lettings agency says the new immigration act being trialled in the Midlands from today, and possibly nationwide next year, could lead to agents accidentally discriminating.

It will also mean landlords will rely increasingly on agents who may have to change procedures to cope with the additional workload.

Under the Act, agents will be required to make ID checks to establish the immigration status of all prospective adult occupiers before a residential tenancy agreement is granted. Records will need to be kept for 12 months after the end of the tenancy. 

Fran Mulhall, operations and lettings manager of GFW Letting in Newcastle upon Tyne, fears “the immigration check is going to prove too much of a minefield for landlords and agents alike.”

She says neither an agent nor a landlord is a skilled border control officer. “It is likely that the only immigration document that they’re familiar with is a British passport. Many British people, however, do not have a passport and for those tenants who don’t this will create an added difficulty for landlords and almost certainly result in acts of discrimination where the landlord, or agent, chooses to be safe rather than sorry and be penalised financially.” 

She says it is therefore easy to see how many legitimate tenants, including foreign nationals and ethnic minorities, could be discriminated against if their status is unclear.

“With 1.4 million private landlords in the UK, it is unlikely that Home Office employees are going to be able to deal with the checks as quickly as landlords require them - mounting more pressure on landlords as empty properties means empty pockets” Mulhall warns. 

“[This] could lead to legal immigrants and vulnerable groups of society to be forced to use unscrupulous landlords or agents if they are not verified correctly - thus having the opposite effect of what we want to achieve” she warns.