Harper's bizarre

AngelaSmith.jpgAngela Smith on the government’s flawed plan to outsource immigration services to landlords

A key issue this week on the Immigration Bill is the government’s plan to impose fines on private landlords who rent to illegal migrants without making appropriate checks. In principle, this doesn’t sound too bad. We are not against making it more difficult for illegal migrants to rent property, and social landlords are already unable to rent to those without a right to live in the UK.

Labour wants immigration legislation that works. Not legislation that puts unnecessary, onerous and disproportionate restrictions and obligations on UK citizens, or those working and studying here, and which fails to impact on the real issues.

It’s difficult to find anyone, other than Coalition Ministers, who think the government’s proposals to outsource immigration control to landlords will work in practice. Shelter, Crisis, Liberty and many others, including organisations representing landlords, are concerned about its implementation and the apparently unintended consequences.

If the proposals get through Parliament, all landlords – including those just renting out one room –will have to check on the immigration status of their potential tenant. How will they do that? How familiar are they with the many different documents that could be provided? It is highly likely and not unreasonable that law-abiding landlords will want to be on the safe side and ask for a passport in each and every case. 

Former Immigration Minister Mark Harper employed a cleaner for over six years, having checked her passport and a letter from the Home Office, before then finding out he’d got it wrong. So who can blame responsible landlords for wanting to play it safe, renting only to those who can immediately provide the appropriate documents. And the government also appears to have given little thought to the significant problems and hardships that will be faced by so many others seeking to rent a home.

What about students coming to the UK to study, and who won’t be able to present their documents until they arrive? What about the woman fleeing domestic violence, and who may not have her documents having quickly left the family home?  What about those with mental health problems, who don’t have their documentation to hand?  What about the approximately 17% of the population who don’t have passports? A figure likely to be much higher among the poor and vulnerable. What about those who have a chaotic or disorganised lifestyles? And what about the British citizen from an ethnic minority background? The government says that this law must not be discriminatory. But how can they guarantee that?  

These are just some of the concerns about the proposals but they highlight the reasons why we want to test the provisions in a pilot, before it is implemented. At present, there are too many unanswered questions and it seems perfectly reasonable to ensure the aims of the clause work before taking it any further.

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon

Published 10th March 2014

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