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The future of Right to Rent checks is somewhat up in the air as a result of Covid-19 and Brexit, with confusion reigning about where letting agents and landlords will stand after the end of June.

That’s when the grace period for the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme ends and when, in theory, the temporary move to allow checks to be made via video calls will cease.

Here, we take a look at the current situation and what is set to change.

A changed system during the pandemic

Right to Rent checks, which have proved a controversial but necessary evil since being introduced across England in early 2016, have looked different as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to the health crisis, letting agents and landlords have been able to conduct Right to Rent checks via video calls rather than this being done in person. The Home Office introduced this as a temporary measure, but it has been extended a number of times as restrictions on mixing have remained in place. 

The Home Office announced its latest extension to June 20 – the day before all restrictions were set to be eased in England. The deadline had previously been May 17, but with ongoing limits on face-to-face contact as the UK eases out of lockdown, the government confirmed an extension of just over a month. 

The temporary system means checks can be carried out with applicants submitting scanned or photographed documents, rather than the physical versions of these as was required before.

There is every chance the deadline could be extended again as all restrictions have not been eased on June 21. This is likely to lead to further confusion and uncertainty for letting agents and their landlords, and some would argue that the apparent success of the new system – with no obvious breaches or problems – begs the question of why video calls can’t be used long into the future?

The Home Office has already gone back on its pledge for temporary video checks to be confirmed with full in-person checks at the end of the Covid crisis. The government now insists this is not necessary, reflecting ‘the length of time the adjusted checks have been in place’ as well as a desire to help ‘landlords during these difficult times’.

The Brexit complication

Another major cause of concern when it comes to Right to Rent checks is Brexit, with rules changing from June 30.

It’s still not clear what future checks will be needed for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, after the additional grace period for some matters, including Right to Rent, concludes at the end of June. This grace period has meant that the Right to Rent process has not changed for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, but what happens afterwards?

The government has previously said that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens can continue to use their passport or national identity card to demonstrate their right to rent until June 30, but there has been no clear guidance on the rules after this date has passed. 

Previously, letting agents have been informed that if tenants have status under the EU Settlement Scheme or the new points-based immigration system, they can choose to evidence their Right to Rent using the Home Office online service. 

It’s also been made clear that landlords are unable to insist that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens use the online service or discriminate against those who wish to use their passport or national identity card. But after June 30? That is much less clear.

This has led to many calling for more clarity and transparency when it comes to Right to Rent checks post-Brexit. According to the terms of the Brexit divorce bill, EU citizens living in the UK by the end of 2020 can remain with guaranteed rights, with the right to apply for permanent residence after five years, assuming they apply in time to the EU Settlement Scheme.

After July 1, when the application process for the scheme ends, those who have not already applied could be stripped of essential rights they have enjoyed up to now. This includes the right to work and live in rental accommodation in the UK.

Campaigners have, however, pointed to a backlog of over 300,000 applications in the UK’s post-Brexit settlement scheme and urged an extension beyond June 30 to allow these applications to be processed.

There is a danger, of course, with so many still waiting to pass through the system and be approved, that from July the status of a huge number of people will be unknown or in a state of limbo. This is almost certain to cause issues for letting agents and landlords whose job it is to check the legal right to tenants to rent in the UK.

The industry has often railed against its role as de facto border guards when it comes to checking would-be tenants’ credentials, and it seems inevitable that this will worsen while the position of such a large portion of people remains unclear.

The government recently published a promotional document – Your immigration status: an introduction for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens’ – to advise people on how to prove their status, but it seems beyond doubt that there will still be many people left uncertain after July 1.

The government has been urged to provide clarity and guidance, and this will hopefully come closer to the time. For now, letting agents should continue to carry out checks in the same way and await any changes relating to video checks and the post-Brexit landscape.

In addition, the calls for rent passports – so people can prove their right to rent in the UK without this needing to be checked each and every time, with a rental history that is easily traced and tracked – and more tech-led solutions when it comes to referencing will continue to get louder.

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