Government proposals that would make landlords responsible for checking whether prospective tenants have the right to live in the UK have sent waves of anger through the buy-to-let community.
The proposals - if made a reality - would mean that anyone letting property in the UK would be required by law to verify the immigration status of their tenants, even, potentially, if they're letting a room in their own home to a lodger. If illegal immigrants are found to be living in a property their landlord or agent could be fined £1,000 per illegal migrant or £3,000 for a repeat offence.
Most landlords already carry out several checks on tenants before they sign contracts. These range from verifying employment and checking credit history to asking for references from previous landlords. In theory, adding one more box to the checklist shouldn't be too difficult.
It's clear the Government is trying to get to the root of the issue - immigrants need accommodation, so go to the source - but there are several problems with this proposal.
First of all, this can only lead to discrimination against people from certain backgrounds when it comes to renting property. If a landlord is faced with one prospective tenant with UK citizenship and another from overseas they'll just let to the UK citizen. It's simpler, carries less risk to the landlord and saves time and money due the administration involved.
This will inevitably have a knock on effect. In areas where there's a high volume of rented accommodation the diversity of communities will change.
Secondly, how will immigrants fare long term when it comes to finding accommodation? My worry is that they'll be pushed towards the lower levels of the rental market where the least scrupulous landlords operate. Many of these landlords ignore legislation anyway so the problem isn't really being tackled, just moved away from more affluent areas and into the underground economy.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, curbing illegal immigration shouldn't be put in the hands of untrained members of the public, it should be carried out by trained staff.
It's typical of modern, short-sighted policy making to try and treat a problem by over-legislating the mainstream while failing to deal with the real issues. See David Cameron's plans to tackle online pornography for an example of this in action. His proposals are aimed at the major ISPs when experts continually point out that the worst illicit material is stored on untraceable websites. Once again, the likely outcome is to drive more of this activity underground rather than expose and deal with it.
Should the Government be working to crack down on illegal immigration? Of course. Should it be the responsibility of landlords? Don't be daft.