Persons with a right to rent
‘(1) The Immigration Act 2014 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 21(2)(a) after “have it,” insert “subject to subsection (2A)”.
(3) After section 21(2) insert—
“(2A) P retains a right to rent under this section:
(a) for 90 days after P’s leave to enter or remain comes to an end; or
(b) until the end of the one year beginning with the date on which P’s landlord last complied with the prescribed requirements in respect of P, whichever is longer.”
(4) After section 21(4) (b) insert—
“(c) a person who has retained a right to rent under subsection (2A).”—(Keir Starmer.)
‘(1) The Immigration Act 2014 is amended in accordance with subsection (2).
(2) In Clause 20 (Residential tenancy agreement), omit the “and” at the end of subparagraph (b), and insert—
“(ba) is not an agreement granting a right of occupation of premises shared with the landlord, licensor or a member of his family, and””
To exclude from the definition of a residential tenancy agreement those agreements relating to accommodation shared with a landlord or a member of his family, so that individuals who rent out rooms or take lodgers into their homes, as opposed to renting out a whole flat or house, are not part of the right to rent provisions.
I intend to take a similar approach to new clause 8 as I took to new clause 7. It goes, again, to an issue that we have already discussed: the element of protection given to landlords who find themselves in a situation where they are immediately criminalised under the new provisions, about which we expressed considerable concern in the debate that we had the week before last. This provision deals with what we see as the injustice of that situation by providing for a 90-day grace period to protect landlords. It is, in essence, a version of the argument, or the submission, that we made two weeks ago, which was dealt with by a vote on protection for landlords. Again, I doubt that in the intervening two weeks the arguments on either side have either changed or strengthened, so I will not press the new clause.
New clause 9 has one foot in the camp of having already been discussed and one foot in the camp of being new. The last time we touched on similar provisions was in relation to a concern about those in a household who may find themselves advertising for co-tenants. The example discussed in Committee was that of students in a flat who might advertise when one of their number leaves. The Minister gave various assurances and made it clear that in those circumstances they would not come within the definition of an agent and therefore there was no need for concern. I accept that and, from memory, we withdrew the amendment on that basis.
New clause 9 is concerned with a not dissimilar situation, of a landlord renting accommodation that is shared by the landlord or a member of his or her family. It draws a distinction between, on the one hand, professional landlords, and on the other, those who simply let out a room in their house or flat. There is no real evidence on the likely impact of the new provisions on that group, but they will be impactful. New clause 9 drives at that group of individuals.
As the Government have explained, the new offences relating to landlords and agents will be targeted at cases where there has been repeated or particularly serious behaviour as regards renting to illegal migrants or failing to evict them. As I made clear and as we have debated previously, it is not intended to target landlords who are unaware that someone is disqualified from renting, nor will such landlords meet the
“knows or has reasonable cause to believe” threshold required for commission of the offence. It is not intended to take steps to prosecute landlords who are taking reasonable steps to remove someone they know to be disqualified from their property. I recognise that, in part, new clause 8 goes over ground that we have debated at length in Committee, therefore I do not see a need to rerehearse some of the issues debated previously.
New clause 9 touches on some different points and seeks to place lodgers and instances where a person is renting to a family member outside the scope of the right to rent scheme. That was debated at some length at the time of the Immigration Act 2014 and was considered by the House in the context of its application to lodgers. There is already guidance about the position of those renting to close family. For example, undertaking a right to rent check provides a landlord with an excuse as regards the civil penalty. Where someone is confident that their family member is lawfully in the UK, there will be no need for them to undertake the checks to establish that excuse.
Our concern is that taking lodgers out of the scheme will mean that a significant number of illegal migrants and those who exploit them are left untouched, in essence creating a gap in the legislation. That would provide an easy means by which rogue landlords could avoid any sanctions, for instance by arguing that the property was their family home or by arranging for one tenant to take in another occupant as a lodger. Sadly, we know that there is exploitation, there are rogue landlords and that that is a risk. We believe that the checks are straightforward and should be no more difficult for someone letting out a spare room than for any other person who might be within the ambit of the Bill, for example through a formal tenancy. Anyone who accepts remuneration for renting property should accept the responsibilities involved in doing so, such as carrying out the basic checks previously debated and discussed in Committee. The concern about the gap that would be created and the risk that it might lead to further exploitation, with people being taken advantage of, means that we judge that this provision is not appropriate.
The Minister might remember that in a Committee sitting a couple of weeks ago I asked whether people who let out or gave a room via a charity, for no money or a token sum to cover their rising costs, were already exempt. I did not get an answer at the time, and I do not know whether that was because the Minister forgot, or did not want, to answer. Might this be an appropriate time to ask the question again? There are charities that fix destitute people up with others who have a spare room, and with some of the charities the person gets no recompense and with others they get a tiny amount to cover the increased fuel and other costs. Were such people already exempt, or will they be covered by the provisions?
I am sorry if I did not respond previously and I can assure the hon. Lady that it would certainly not have been from not wanting to answer. As she knows, a number of points are made during a debate and sometimes one might inadvertently pass over one of them. In respect of the right to rent scheme, and therefore the statutory excuse, which is what we are talking about, if no money changes hands the arrangement is exempt. I do not know if that helps her. There has to be what would be described in legal terms as some sort of payment or consideration for someone to be captured.
I am pleased to hear that, but some charities give a tiny, token amount for a donated room. It obviously costs more to have somebody living in a spare room, so the amount is not a profit or a commercial arrangement—it is just a token amount to cover the additional costs. Would that circumstance be exempt or would we have to introduce a provision at a later stage to exempt it?
It is obviously difficult, nor would it be right, for me to comment on specific arrangements. I have already talked about refuges and the separate exemptions that apply regarding the support provided for victims of trafficking, and in other circumstances within the definitions that were set out. I have spoken about the issue of nothing of monetary value changing hands, but ultimately we are looking at those with no right to be in the country. That is, I suppose, the basis of the question, and therefore some charitable support might be provided in other circumstances. That is why I must be careful in understanding the specifics, but I think that existing exemptions apply, and these were considered in detail when the right to rent scheme was original considered by the House. There are specific exemptions that we judge to be appropriate, and which cover, in particular, issues of vulnerability and abuse. Refuges play an incredible and essential role in providing appropriate support, and they are normally run by charities and other non-governmental organisations. It was right to put in those exemptions and we judge that they remain appropriate.
I am grateful for the Minister’s comments, in particular on new clause 8. I think he said that it was not the intention to prosecute landlords who took reasonable steps to take adequate action. As he well knows, in the end that is a matter for those who prosecute, but what he has said will now be on the record. It gives some assurance, certainly to Labour members of the Committee and also to landlords who have raised the issue with us, as well as with other members of the Committee, on a number of occasions. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.