The findings of the BBC investigation into ID fraud linked to Right to Rent checks will come as no surprise to longstanding landlords. In fact, for those of us who followed the debate leading up to the implementation of the legislation, it was absolutely predictable that Right to Rent would lead to an increase in demand for black market identification.
Right to Rent puts landlords in a tough spot. It gives the impression that we’re a sort of quango; an arm of the Home Office that shares its risk without the funding or the training to do so. The genuine fear is that a tenant without the Right to Rent in the UK commits a serious offence while living in a privately rented property.
Landlords and letting agents are therefore asked to check tenants’ identity documentation to verify that they have permission to stay in the UK. On the face of it this is a fairly straightforward task, although 170 fines have been issued under Right to Rent in the past year.
But, in reality, beyond checking that a passport photo lines up properly and the binding doesn’t look suspect, there really isn’t a whole lot landlords can do to identify a fake document. Even if it feels that way sometimes, we’re not customs officials. We’re not trained to know what a fake EU passport might look like and, crucially, we aren’t actually required to.
So long as a landlord can readily show a record of having correctly completed a Right to Rent check, and that the identification appeared to be genuine, they are in no way culpable if it transpires that the tenant does not have the right to live and work in the UK.
But the BBC investigation does raise important questions for landlords relating to their due diligence when letting a property.
However small your portfolio, being a landlord should be viewed as running a professional business. There’s no excuse for relying solely on a visual check of couple of pieces of identification when arranging a let. As landlords we should be fully referencing and credit checking potential tenants, and using the raft of technology available to support us.
Most lettings agents provide a referencing service, so ask your agent what they offer. If you’re self-managing, you should be making use of technology services that do at least cursory validation of your tenants, which is available for as little as £3 per Right to Rent check. This ensures you take all the steps required of you by the government, stores all the relevant images and documentation, and means you can show your work should a problem arise.
On the one hand, Right to Rent is clearly an imperfect piece of legislation and landlords cannot be expected to perform as auxiliary border control officers. On the other, there is no excuse for relying on a passport and an envelope of cash when arranging a rental.
That’s why Right to Rent doesn’t overly trouble pragmatic, common sense landlords who opt for additional vetting and use technology to their advantage. A relatively small investment can be a highly valuable barrier against potential difficulties; whether this is a couple of months’ unpaid rent or a serious offence by a tenant who doesn’t have the right to be in the UK at all.
Vik Tara is a landlord, the CTO of Technology Blueprint Ltd and the director of CheckDocs, a document checking service for landlords and letting agents.