Right to rent rules relaxed amidst the COVID-19 outbreak
The Government has recently announced its decision to temporarily relax the right to rent rules during the Covid-19 pandemic, starting from 30 March 2020.
Given the recent social-distancing measures and the large numbers of people self-isolating, the Government recognises the practical difficulties of conducting face-to-face identification checks and obtaining original documentation from tenants.
Therefore, in order to avoid face-to-face contact, the Government has announced that landlords can instead conduct abbreviated identification checks against tenants via video calls and obtain scanned documentation by email or mobile apps such as WhatsApp.
Where landlords obtain digital identification documents by email or mobile, they must then verify the tenant’s identity via a video call and ask the tenant to hold their original documents to the camera. The landlord must then record their right to rent checks and mark the digital ID in accordance with the wording suggested by the Government.
The amended rules are only a short-term measure and will be lifted soon after the pandemic is over. The Government will announce when these temporary measures are due to end. After that date, landlords will be required to revert back to the old system and complete retrospective right to rent checks on their tenants within eight weeks of the end-date. The retrospective checks will be required for tenants who started their tenancy during the pandemic and those who required a follow-up check during this period.
The Government has stated that the Home Office will not take enforcement action against a landlord who completes the adjusted right to rent checks in accordance with the amended rules. It is therefore important that a landlord keeps written records of their checks and has proper systems in place to safely store a tenant’s ID. This is particularly important if the Home Office or a local authority wants to inspect a landlord’s right to rent checks at a later stage.
A failure to complete right to rent checks constitutes a criminal offence and is punishable by an unlimited fine or imprisonment for a period of five years.
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