The detail of this may have passed you by at the time, it certainly did me, but amongst the wind and posturing of David Cameron’s ‘big speech’ in March on stopping immigrants from getting things from healthcare to driving licences was quite a significant snippet on the private rental sector.
You have probably already registered the proposals for what Cameron calls ‘state sector’ housing – presumably meaning social housing – which is to introduce statutory allocation guidance:
New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival. And yet at present almost one in ten new social lettings go to foreign nationals. So, I am going to introduce new statutory housing allocation guidance this spring to create a local residence test. Now, what this should mean is that local people rightly get priority in the social housing system. And migrants will need to have lived here and contributing – contributed to this country for at least two years before they can qualify.
This is apparently to include EU migrants, beyond accession country restrictions. Good luck with that. However, many Councils already have residence period preferences and/or restrictions in place. (And, in passing, got to love that irrelevant statistic in the second sentence. How long have those almost 1 in 10 tenants been resident, David?). So, while this is nasty in tone, it partly amounts to smoke and mirrors in terms of policy, save possibly for those on the homeless route.
However, the next paragraph has a bit of a surprise:
Now, finally, as the Deputy Prime Minister set out on Friday, we’re going to radically toughen up the way we deal with illegal migrants working in this country. Frankly, right now, today it is too easy to be an illegal migrant in Britain. It’s too easy to get a driving license, get a house without a check on your immigration status. So we are legislating to make sure illegal migrants can’t have driving licenses. I’ve already said how we’re changing the rules on social housing. I now want us to make sure that private landlords check their tenants’ immigration status with consequences for those rogue landlords who fail to do so.
Wait, private landlords are to be required to check all prospective tenants’ immigration status? With penalties if they do not?
Apart from the immediate prospect of people being driven into unsafe ‘accommodation’ run by unscrupulous ‘rogue’ (and love that co-option of Shelter’s term) landlords, and the high likelihood of knee jerk racist assumptions by landlords concerned to avoid ‘illegals’, how could this wheeze of Cameron’s possibly actually work?
The starting point has to be that the government (and local authorities) have no idea who is a landlord, and who is responsible for what property. The flip side is that landlords have no means to check on immigration status. There is no realistic prospect that I can see of existing regulations being bent or stretched to cover PRS landlords, and no scheme of penalties for failing to do so (though I have been told of a failed attempt by UKBA to pressure landlords in Cambridge into thinking they were covered by hotel regulations in this regard. More on this when I get it).
So, practically, how could such a scheme requiring landlords to undertake checks of immigration status and penalising them if they didn’t actually work. Only two options spring to mind.
One is to basically do nothing at all, but allow for landlords to be penalised should by any chance, their property be raided by UKBA and illegal immigrants found to be living there.
The other is to bring in a register of landlords, possibly held by the local authority, and possibly require landlords to provide details of tenants. Quite how compulsion to register would be handled is an open question, as is where the cost would land, though the landlords would be the obvious target for that. But this would, in effect, introduce the obligatory landlord register that successive governments and landlords’ bodies have been so keen to avoid.
Quite what will come out of Communities and Local Government in response to this promise of Cameron’s will be interesting to see. Somehow, though, it is one policy I wouldn’t be surprised to see quietly peter out at consultation stage…