Landlord Migrant Checks Bill To Be Heavily Diluted
May 28, 2013 |
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Measures to force property owners to check the immigrant status of potential tenants, to make sure they are in the country legally, is set to be watered-down. It was a key proposal in a package of measures aimed at restricting migrant access to benefits and services in the UK ahead of further relaxation of European Union border controls at the end of the year, when restrictions of migrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria are dropped.
If a landlord anywhere in the UK was to be found housing a tenant that was not in the country legally, the landlord was to face a fine running into thousands of pounds, but ministers have decided that it makes more sense to restrict the new regulation to areas of the country with high immigrant populations.
The decision to scale-down the enforcement of the measure followed criticism that nearly two million property owners would be affected by the new regulation. There were concerns among critics that this extra regulation could both increase rental costs and reduce the supply of accommodation.
Coming to these conclusions less than a month after the measure was first proposed at the Coalition’s Queen’s Speech is something of an embarrassment for the government, suggesting that the measure had not been properly thought through.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is said to have argued the case within the Cabinet for not increasing the burden of red tape for the majority of landlords.
A source said, “It is just making sure implementation is done in a common sense way.
“We want to do it in a way that does not inflict red tape on millions of people. What we want to avoid is disproportionate regulations on the private rented sector. If you are British, we don’t want a bureaucratic check, the cost of which is passed on to the landlord and then the tenant.
“It is a question of getting the balance right and targeting the regulations at high-risk areas.”
To which areas of the UK the new regulation will apply has yet to finalised; Department for Communities and Local Government officials are still in the process of identifying appropriate areas. Ealing and West Hounslow in west London have been disclosed as possible targets. Further details are expected when the Immigration Bill is published later this year.
However, there is concern that the measure will only push illegal immigrants into sub-standard slum accommodation owned by rogue landlords. These unscrupulous property owners also operate in areas of high immigrant populations, such as west London, housing illegal immigrants in garages and sheds. It is feared the proposals risk furthering the powers of rogue landlords to exploit the vulnerable.
It has been reported that David Cameron and Eric Pickles did not see eye-to-eye on the matter. Mr Pickles allegedly told the Prime Minister that most properties in the private rented sector were rented out by individuals and small businesses, not big landlords, and that holding them responsible for the immigrant status of their tenants would be an “unreasonable burden”.
A DGLC spokesman said, “The government will avoid burdening the private rented sector with excessive red tape and will not adversely affect UK nationals looking to rent.”
However, despite reports that the Prime Minister turned “puce” and “stalked out of the room”, a source said, “There is not some big spat or row. There are discussions about detail and that is what Government does.”
The DCLG said, “The Government is taking action to stop rogue landlords who cash in from housing illegal immigrants.
“These measures will send out a strong signal and help to reduce unsustainable immigration.”
The news will likely be welcomed all across the lettings industry, as experts had predicted that the original plans would push up the cost of property investment, place further burdens on landlords who would face the threat of costly fines, and put off potential investors in the buy-to-let market.