Right to rent: Home Office to enable third-party digital ID checks for landlords

Private sector service providers will be certified to verify identities of prospective tenants and employees

Credit: Paul Wilkinson/CC BY 2.0    Image has been cropped

Government is to enable landlords and employers to use third-party tech firms to verify the identity and rights of prospective tenants and employees.

Before letting a property, private landlords are required by law to check the immigration status of all tenants or lodgers and confirm that they are in country legally and have the right to reside here. Employers must also check the right to work of all prospective hires. The Home Office currently provides online services through which these checks can be conducted. 

Incoming legislation means that, from 6 April, landlords and employers will also be able to call on one of a number government-certified private-sector providers of “identification document validation technology” (IDVT) to perform these checks. Employers will also be able to use these third-party firms to conduct the criminal-record checks offered through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

The Home Office indicated that the new digital processes could benefit “many who are not to use the Home Office online services, including British and Irish citizens”.

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A new set of guidelines – the UK Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework – will formally launch shortly, allowing IDVT providers to begin the certification process. The framework will include rules for processes and security measures, and will be overseen by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The UK Accreditation Service will be responsible for the award of certifications.

Once approved, providers will enable individuals to “upload images of their personal documents, instead of presenting physical documents” directly to an employer, landlord or lettings agency. Technology will then be used to authenticate documents and confirm whether the person in question is who they claim to be and holds the necessary rights to live and work in this country.

A policy paper jointly published by the Home Office, DCMS and DBS said: “Enabling the use of IDVT for right to work, right to rent and DBS checks will help to support long-term post pandemic working practices, accelerate the recruitment and on-boarding process, improve employee mobility and enhance the security and integrity of the checks. The technology utilised across the identity process removes human error in terms of identifying fraudulent documents or inaccuracies and will support the Home Office, DBS and DCMS in driving improvements through their delivery partners.”

The legal obligation for private landlords to check tenants’ right to rent has been in place since February 2016 and provides for punishments of up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine for anyone found to have let a property to someone they knew or had “reasonable cause to believe” did not have the right to live in the UK. Irrespective of a tenant’s immigration status landlords that cannot, on request, provide adequate evidence that a right-to-rent check has taken place can also be hit with a civil penalty of up to £3,000 per tenant.

Court rulings
In 2019, a High Court judge ruled that the controversial law – brought in as part of then-home secretary Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ agenda – was inherently discriminatory and in breach of human-rights law. This ruling came following a legal challenge launched by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), and backed by other organisations including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Residential Landlords Association.

However, a hearing in the appeal court in April 2020 ruled in the government’s favour and concluded that right to rent was “justified” and “proportionate” and did not contravene human-rights legislation.

The GOV.UK webpage outlining landlords’ obligations under the scheme says in bold type: “Check all new tenants. It’s against the law to only check people you think are not British citizens.”

In early 2020, following the government’s loss in the High Court and shortly before the appeal court ruled on the case, an extra line was added to this section: “You must not discriminate against anyone because of where they’re from.”

Despite the ultimate success of the government’s appeal, the ruling did acknowledge that the “administrative convenience” of favouring applicants with British passports did result in some landlords discriminating against immigrants.

The JCWI remains one of a number of vocal critics of the policy and, in light of the appeal court ruling, indicated that it intended to continue to challenge the legality of the scheme.

“The Court of Appeal thought it could take black people, ethnic minorities and migrants up to twice as long to find a property to rent as a white British person,” the organisation said. “The government should be doing everything in its power to stamp out discrimination – instead, it is still arguing it should be allowed to cause it. The Home Office has always maintained that this racial discrimination wasn’t caused by the scheme. Now we have two court rulings confirming that the government is causing racial discrimination in the housing market against ethnic minority British people, like the Windrush generation.”


Sam Trendall

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