Right to Rent and the Windrush Generation

It’s tempting, but not particularly helpful, to suggest that sooner or later a big problem with Right to Rent checks was bound to arise. If we wanted a better example of why the scheme is flawed than the recent Windrush debacle, we would be hard-pressed to find one. That might sound flippant in the face of the unnecessary suffering that’s occurred – the threatened deportations, the loss of employment, the difficulties getting treatment from the NHS – but it’s not meant to be. We know there’s a human cost to this mess.

Whether, in the end, it’s a case of negligence, short-sightedness, administrative errors or apathy, time will tell, but it’s clear that under the Right to Rent checks, having the necessary paperwork has suddenly become critical. No matter that you might have lived here, worked here and contributed to the UK’s economy for decades, if you can’t prove it with a passport or citizenship status, you could be in a lot of trouble.

And that’s worrying for landlords – because who wants to wade into this mess. When landlords are faced with fines for renting to people without the appropriate documentation, what are they to do? We are not immigration officers. We do not have extensive knowledge of the history of migration of Commonwealth citizens and of promises made in the past. We don’t know who we can trust and who we can’t. We’re just trying to be landlords.

The Home Office has rushed to issue new guidance, recognising the need to distinguish between the Commonwealth citizens who have lived in the UK most of their lives and illegal immigrants with no right to remain. Although it sounds reasonably clear, the inclusion with the guidance of special helpline numbers and the establishment of a specialist ‘Commonwealth task force’ suggests the practicalities aren’t so straightforward. In the case of Commonwealth citizens, here’s what landlords need to know:

  • Someone who has lived in the UK permanently since before 1973 and has not been away for long periods in the last 30 years, has the right to be here and to rent property.
  • Someone who came to the UK after 1 January 1973 might not have the automatic right to be here. They may, however, be permitted to stay here permanently and will have the right to rent property.

That isn’t a great deal of help, is it?  Without paperwork, without firm dates, it’s still difficult.  But at least the Home Office seems to acknowledge the challenge and has set up a special helpline as follows:

Telephone: 0300 069 9799.

Monday to Thursday: 9am to 4.45pm.

Friday: 9am to 4.30pm

For prospective tenants, the details are as follows:

Freephone: 0800 678 1925.

Monday to Saturday: 9am to 5pm.

Sunday: 10am to 4pm

Email: commonwealthtaskforce@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

It’s perhaps worth noting that the Home Office’s dedicated team is tasked with getting those affected the paperwork they need to prove their rights.

We expect the story will continue to unfold. As always, watch this space.