This week, the UK Government announced significant changes to the way the ‘Immigration Bill’ will affect student accommodation owners. The latest amendments propose that landlords of purpose build student residences will be exempt from some of the immigration checks that will become legal requirements if the Bill is passed.
In a nutshell, the Immigration Bill currently lays out new ways to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in Britain by, among other steps, increasing the places that Visa statuses are checked. For landlords this means obtaining more comprehensive tenant references and conducting regular checks on their tenants’ immigration status. This new responsibility is backed by a threat of large potential fines of up to £3000 per adult tenant!
Professional landlord associations have criticised the Bill for relying on untrained property investors to carry out complex background checks on potential tenants. The National Landlords Association said that carrying out these checks could even be dangerous for landlords.
Since its announcement in the Queen’s speech the Bill, which could become law this year and be enforced as early as 2015, has been openly critiqued by many. Even the UN has raised concerns, warning that the bill could create ethnic profiling, and particularly pointed to the difficulties it could raise for students hoping to study in the UK.
Some bodies have taken their concerns further, and the British Property Federation (BPF) tabled an amendment to the Bill. Building on the UN’s concerns, the BPF argues that international students go through rigorous visa checks before being accepted by a university. The latest changes to the Bill mean that landlords will not have to duplicate these checks.
‘We are very satisfied to see that our amendments to the Immigration Bill have been accepted. The time and resources that would have been spent by student accommodation providers carrying out these checks would have been completely wasted,’ said Ian Fletcher, Director of Policy at the British Property Federation.
He added; ‘If we want to see the UK’s higher education sector competing on the global stage then we need to make sure that we welcome those from other countries who want to study here, not make it more difficult for them.’
While it seems that landlords of purpose built student accommodation will be exempt from completing regular checks on a tenant’s visa status, the amendment still seems to leave them with some responsibility for initial checks so how much pressure this change will relieve is yet to be seen.