Landlords have a number of responsibilities, and one of them is to carry out right to rent checks. Here’s what it means, why it’s important and what the penalties are for non-compliance. We’ll also look at important changes to right to rent checks introduced in April 2022.
We’ve broken the article down into the following sections so you can quickly find the information you need:
- What is right to rent and what are right to rent checks?
- Legality of right to rent checks and who needs them
- How to run right to rent checks on your tenants
- New digital right to rent checks
- What happens if a tenant doesn’t have the right documentation or fails a check?
- Keeping up with landlord responsibilities
Under the right to rent scheme, landlords in England must check that prospective tenants have the right to live in the UK before renting out property. Failure to do so can result in heavy fines and even a prison sentence.
Right to rent applies to a range of contracts, including:
- Tenancies and sub-tenancies
- Leases of less than seven years including sub-leases
- Licence agreements
Right to rent was introduced as part of the Immigration Act 2014 to effectively make it tougher for people to rent homes if they didn’t have the right to be in the UK. After trials in Birmingham, Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall, and Wolverhampton, the scheme was rolled out nationally in February 2016.
Right to rent checks are not required in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.
What is a right to rent check?
A right to rent check is the process of vetting potential tenants which involves checking their immigration status. Checks must be done in the 28 days before the start of a new tenancy.
Right to rent checks can be carried out by:
- Landlords renting out private accommodation
- Letting agents or management firms with written authorisation by landlords
- Occupier landlords renting to a lodger
- Tenants sub-letting some or all of a property
Tenants that sub-let must make sure they have the landlord’s written permission before agreeing to sub-let.
If you don’t have a letting agent but don’t feel comfortable carrying out the checks yourself, there are various legal firms and tenant referencing services that will carry out the checks on your behalf.
Yes, it’s one of your landlord obligations so you must carry out right to rent checks on all tenants, regardless of whether you think they’re British or not. If checks aren’t carried out, you could be fined up to £3,000.
If landlords have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that tenants don’t have the right to live in the UK, but rent to them anyway, the penalty is even tougher. In this instance, you could be given an unlimited fine or receive a five-year prison sentence.
It is against the law to discriminate; you must check everyone even if you believe they are a British citizen.
What type of tenants need to be checked through the right to rent scheme?
If tenants are renting a property and it’s their only or main home, they must undergo a right to rent check. This applies to everyone aged 18 or over living in the property – even if they’re not specifically named on the tenancy agreement.
What type of tenants don’t need to be checked on the right to rent scheme?
There are some exceptions to the right to rent scheme and not every type of tenancy or tenant needs to be checked. Exemptions include:
- Hospitals, care homes and hospices
- Hostels and refuges
- Student accommodation
- Social housing
- Tenants in mobile homes
- Accommodation provided by local authorities
- Leases that are seven years or longer
- Tied accommodation that’s provided because of the tenant’s job
A step-by-step guide to how to check your tenant’s right to rent.
Establishing who your tenants are
You’ll need to establish who’ll be living in your rental. Remember that everyone aged 18 or over will need to be vetted even if they aren’t named on the lease.
Request original documents showing the right to rent
Your tenants will need to show you documents that prove they have the right to live in the UK. This can include:
- A UK passport
- A UK driving licence
- A passport that shows the person is an Irish citizen
- A certificate of registration or naturalisation as a British citizen
- A UK immigration document that shows official leave to remain
Original copies of all of the above documents can be used to conduct a manual right to rent check.
However, from 6th April 2022, landlords can no longer accept or check a physical Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), Biometric Residence Card (BRC), or Frontier Work Permit (FWP) as valid proof of right to rent.
Holders of a BRP, BRC or FWP must use the Home Office online right to rent checking service.
Retrospective checks will not be required on biometric card holders who, before 6th April 2022, used their physical card to demonstrate their right to rent.
You should also be aware that since 1st July 2021, European Economic Area (EEA) citizens must also prove their right to rent in the UK as other foreign nationals do. This means an EEA passport is no longer acceptable proof and prospective tenants will need to provide evidence they are allowed to live in the UK. The only exception is Irish nationals who can still use their passports as proof.
If tenants don’t have a passport, other documents are acceptable, such as a letter from a UK university. The government has provided a full list of acceptable documents.
In some cases, you can also quickly check whether tenants have the right to rent online. You can only use the service if your tenant has an:
- eVisa or has used the UK Immigration app
- Biometric documentation
- Has settled or pre-settled status
Until 30th March 2020, documents had to be checked in person (unless using the Home Office online service), but new rules allowing checking via video call were introduced to comply with COVID-19 social distancing and lockdown regulations.
Originally set to expire in April 2022, the government has extended the arrangement until 30th September 2022.
- tenants can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals;
- landlords should use the Home Office Landlord Checking Service if a prospective or existing tenant cannot provide any of the accepted documents.
Check documentation is genuine
You’ll need to check that the documents you’ve received are genuine, for example, you should make sure that:
- The documents are originals, or that you have seen the originals via video call
- Photo ID is of the tenant
- Details such as birth date are consistent
- If names are different, check for supporting evidence of this, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree
- Permission to remain in the UK has not expired
Make and keep copies for your records
You should make copies of each of the documents used as evidence, making sure they’re clear and readable. With passports, you’ll need to take a copy of all the pages that contain relevant information – for example: their name, date of birth, and nationality. You should also date each copy.
You’ll have to keep copies for the length of the tenancy plus one year. It’s also important to keep your tenant’s data secure by following data protection laws.
On 6th April 2022, legislation came into force allowing landlords and letting agents to conduct digital right to rent checks for British and Irish citizens, using Identification Document Validation Technology (IDVT).
It will remove the need for in-person or video call checks, speed up the checking process, and remove the need for landlords to keep paper copies of original documents.
Tenants and applicants will be able to upload images of their personal documents to IDVT, instead of presenting physical documents, with landlords accessing the data via a licenced digital identity service provider (IDSP).
Check the government’s latest guidance for a list of licenced IDSPs.
There will be some instances where your tenant may not have all the right paperwork despite having the right to rent. This could be the case if the Home Office has their documents or they’re awaiting an appeal. In this situation, you can use the Home Office landlord’s checking service to verify someone’s right to live in the UK.
To use the service, you’ll need the tenant’s Home Office reference number. You should get an answer within two working days. Alternatively, you can call the government’s landlord helpline on 0300 790 6268.
What happens if a tenant fails a right to rent check?
If a tenant fails a right to rent check (and you’ve checked their status with the landlord’s checking service), you cannot rent your property to them.
If you do, you could face fines and a repeat offence could even mean a custodial prison sentence.
What if a tenant’s right to rent has run out?
You might find that your tenant’s right to rent in the UK expires before the end of the tenancy. In this instance, you’ll need to carry out a follow-up check. This is essentially the same process as before (checking their documents and taking copies).
If your tenant fails the follow up check, you must tell the Home Office and begin the eviction process.
What is classed as an illegal tenant on the right to rent scheme?
Anyone that doesn’t have the right to rent or permission to rent under the government’s criteria, will be classed as an illegal tenant.
Fundamentally, that means potential tenants must be able to show you documents that entitle them to rent in the UK (if they are 18 or over). If not, then they should have a Home Office reference number that will enable you to verify their rights using the landlord checking service.
With frequent changes in the law, landlord obligations are constantly being updated. To help you stay up to date, head to our landlords’ hub where you’ll find advice and guidance on a range of topics – from your legislative rights under the Housing Act 1988, to tips on how to find good tenants.
Make sure you have all the information you need from prospective tenants with our interactive Tenancy Application form:
For more information about how we can help, why not speak to a member of the team on 01603 216399.
Legislation and guidance included in this article is correct as of May 2022. Please note that legislation does change, it is always best to check the most up to date guidance on gov.uk. Most landlord insurance policies arranged by Alan Boswell Group also have access to a legal advice helpline where policyholders can seek further advice.