All landlords in England must check that any new tenant over the age of 18 has the right to rent before entering into a residential tenancy agreement. This is to make sure that any tenants are lawfully allowed to live in the UK and that those without lawful immigration status are prevented from accessing the private rented sector. Tenants are also expected to co-operate within this process.
The following guide looks at what a right to rent check is, when these checks are needed and how to correctly carry out a check. This includes how to obtain and use a right to rent share code, plus the acceptable documents that can be used when conducting a manual check. We also highlight the consequences of failing to comply with the strict rules under the right to rent regime.
What is the right to rent?
The right to rent stems from a person’s right to live in the UK. It follows from a person’s immigration status – if they do not have the right to live in the UK then they do not have the right to rent a property in the UK either.
Landlords renting out private rented accommodation, taking in a lodger or sub-letting a property or part of a property, are liable to make the right to rent checks, i.e. check that a prospective tenant has the right to live in the UK.
The obligation on landlords (or their agents) to check the immigration status of a prospective renter currently applies in England only, i.e. not Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The requirement was introduced on 1st February 2016. Landlords do not have to make right to rent checks in respect of tenancies that began before those dates.
Even when there is no written tenancy agreement, only an oral or implied one, it is mandatory to make the checks.
It is, of course, possible for a letting or managing agent to make the right to rent checks on behalf of a landlord. However, you should make sure that you have a written agreement in place with your agent specifically covering this obligation.
What are right to rent checks?
A right to rent check is a prescribed form of online or manual check to be carried out by landlords, or letting agents on their behalf, when letting privately rented accommodation. This is to ensure that the tenant has the legal right to live in the UK, although there is no requirement to check a tenant’s right to rent in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, where the rules are currently only in force in relation to residential premises based in England.
Before the start of a new tenancy, landlords or their letting agents renting property in England must therefore check all prospective adult tenants, even if they are not named on the tenancy agreement. Equally, a private homeowner must also check that any lodger to be living within a private household can legally rent their residential property.
When are initial right to rent checks needed?
It is against the law to only check prospective tenants that the landlord, letting agent or homeowner thinks may be living in the UK illegally, where they must not discriminate against anyone because of where they are from. As such, right to rent checks must be carried out on all new tenants who will be living in the property as their main home.
A property would usually be an individual’s only or main home if they will be living there most of the time, keeping most of their belongings there, their partner and/or children will be living with them, and they will be registered with their doctors at that property.
When conducting an initial right to rent check, a check on a tenant with an unlimited right to live in the UK can be undertaken at any time before the tenancy agreement is entered into. This will include British or Irish citizens, or EEA citizens with settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). In contrast, for those with a time-limited right, a check must instead be undertaken no earlier than 28 days prior to the start date of the tenancy.
When are repeat right to rent checks needed?
If the tenant has been able to show a permanent right to live in the UK, for example, as an EEA citizen with settled status under the EUSS, there will be no need to conduct a repeat check. This is because they will have an unlimited right to rent. However, for those tenants with a time-limited right to be in the UK, a follow-up right to rent check will be needed.
A repeat right to rent check should be carried out either at the end of the tenant’s permission to stay in the UK or 12 months after the previous check was made, whichever is the later. At this stage, if it is discovered that the tenant no longer has the right to rent, the Home Office must be notified of this by the landlord, letting agent or homeowner.
For landlords who have recently acquired property in which there are already tenants living, they will need proof that the last landlord correctly conducted a right to rent check. They will also be responsible for carrying out any follow-up checks, where applicable.
Right to rent landlord requirements
- check the right to rent of all tenants, regardless of their perceived nationality;
- check every person over the age of 18 who is going to live in the property as their only or main home, regardless of whether they are named in the tenancy agreement;
- make ‘reasonable enquiries’ as to the number and identities of adult occupiers who will be living at the property;
- satisfy themselves that any children who are going to live in the property will be under the age of 18 when the tenancy starts;
- meet the adult occupiers in person and view original documents;
- take ‘reasonable steps’ to verify that the document is genuine and the person is the rightful holder;
- keep dated evidence of having checked the documents of all adult occupiers prior to the beginning of the tenancy;
- contact the Home Office and ask it to carry out a right to rent check where the person has an application or an appeal outstanding with the Home Office or the Home Office is holding the person’s original documents, or the person has ‘permission to rent’;
- carry out a follow up check on a person whose right to live in the UK is time-limited when that right expires; and
- if the person no longer has the right to live in the UK then report them to the Home Office using the online form.
You should assume that your tenant is going to use the property as their only or main home, unless the prospective tenant informs you otherwise. In making ‘reasonable enquiries’ as to the number of adult occupiers who will be living at the property, you are expected to ask more searching questions where necessary. For example, if only one tenant is proposing to rent a four-bedroom house from you, you should make further enquiries.
In a case where the Home Office discovers that no-one living in your property has the right to rent, it may issue a Notice of Letting to a Disqualified Person. This requires you to give 28 days’ notice of their eviction. If they do not leave by the end of the four-week period then you have the right to re-enter the property and change the locks.
In a case where only some of the occupiers do not have the right to rent, you have to use the section 21 notice eviction procedure (where the fixed term of the AST has already expired) or go to court for an eviction order. It is worth negotiating with the occupiers first, to see if those without the right to rent will leave if the others with the right to remain are allowed to stay on.
How to carry out right to rent checks
A right to rent check can usually be conducted in one of two ways: online or manually. If the tenant is able to provide the landlord, letting agent or homeowner with a share code, the check can be conducted using the Home Office online checking service. However, if this is not possible, a check will instead need to be made of the tenant’s original documents.
In circumstances where the tenant is unable to produce either a share code or acceptable documentation, the landlord, agent or homeowner must instead request a Home Office right to rent check using the Landlord Checking Service. This could be where, for example, verification is needed because the tenant has an application or appeal outstanding with the Home Office, or the Home Office is currently holding the individual’s documents.
If the Home Office is able to confirm that the tenant is allowed to rent the property, a copy must be made of both the tenant’s certificate of application and the response from the Landlord Checking Service, referred to as a Positive Right to Rent Notice (PRRN). These copies must then be kept for a period of one year after the tenancy has come to an end.
Since 6 April 2022, a right to rent check can also be undertaken using Identification Document Validation Technology (IDVT) via the services of an approved Identity Service Provider (IDSP). This where an IDSP is paid to carry out a digital ID check, but this is only applicable to British and Irish citizens who hold a valid passport or an Irish passport card.
How do you use a right to rent share code in an online check?
An online check can be conducted by a landlord, letting agent or homeowner where the tenant is able to provide them with a right to rent share code. However, whether the tenant is able to provide a share code will depend on their nationality and the way in which their immigration status is held by the Home Office. A tenant can use this service if they:
- have either a biometric residence card or biometric residence permit
- have settled or pre-settled status under the EUSS
- applied for a visa using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to scan their identity document using their phone and their immigration status is now held in digital format.
To access this service and generate a share code, the tenant will need details of either their biometric residence permit or card, or their passport or national identity card. The share code can then be emailed or handed to the landlord, agent or homeowner.
Having accessed the online service using the generated share code and the tenant’s date of birth, this will show whether a person has the right to rent in England. It will also show for how long that tenant can rent for, for example, someone with limited leave to remain in the UK, such as under a temporary work visa, will only have a time-limited right to rent.
When conducting an online right to rent check, the individual conducting the check must satisfy themselves that the photograph they have access to when using that service is of the tenant. They must also retain a clear copy of the response provided, securely storing that response electronically or in hardcopy for a year after the tenancy has ended.
If the tenant is not eligible to use the online service, they would instead need to provide original, acceptable documents to prove their right to rent. Importantly, if a tenant can prove their right to rent in this way, they cannot be forced to provide a share code.
How do you conduct a manual right to rent check?
When checking original documents, the landlord, letting agent or homeowner will need to:
- check which adults will be living in the property as their main home
- ask each of them for original documents that prove they can legally live in the UK
- check their documents to ensure that they have the right to rent residential property
- check these documents in the presence of the holder, where the adjusted video procedure in place during the coronavirus pandemic no longer applies
- make and retain copies of these documents, recording the date that the check was made.
When physically checking documents, the landlord, agent or homeowner must check that:
- the documents are originals
- the documents are genuine and belong to the tenant
- the tenant’s permission to live in the UK has not expired
- the photos on the documents are of the tenant
- the dates of birth are the same in all documents and are believable
- the documents are not too damaged or do not look like they have been changed
- if any names are different on the documents, there are supporting documents to show why, such as either a marriage certificate or divorce decree/order.
Having been provided with an original and acceptable document(s), copies must be taken by the landlord, letting agent or homeowner, recording the date that the copy was made. These must be copies that cannot be changed, such as a good quality photograph or photocopy, which must then be kept for one year after the tenant moves out.
Right to rent acceptable documents
When conducting a manual right to rent check, only certain documents can be used as part of that check. These are known as acceptable documents. For example, a tenant cannot provide a biometric residence card or permit, as these will not be classed as acceptable for the purposes of a manual check. The tenant would instead need to go online to generate a share code here, otherwise risk having their tenancy application rejected.
A list of acceptable documents can be found online under the ‘Right to Rent Checks: A guide to immigration documents for tenants and landlords’.
The documents that are considered acceptable are set out in two lists: List A and List B. List A contains the range of documents which may be accepted for a tenant who has a permanent right to rent in the UK, including British and Irish citizens. In these instances, the landlord, letting agent or homeowner is required to check one document from List A (Group 1) or two documents from List A (Group 2). In contrast, List B contains the range of documents which may be accepted for a person who has a time-limited right to rent.
For British citizens, List A documents include a passport, which will be enough to prove their right to remain in the UK indefinitely. If a British person does not have a passport, then they can show two documents from ‘Group 2’ of List A. For example, a UK driving licence and a UK birth certificate.
How will I know if a document is genuine?
The Home Office expects landlords to take ‘reasonable steps’ to verify that the document provided by a prospective tenant is genuine, but you are not expected to be an expert on immigration. The Home Office recognises that people who present false documents set out to deceive and will do so with convincing papers.
However, you are supposed to apply common sense and be diligent in your examination of the documents submitted to you. Examples of indicators that you would be expected to pick up and question include:
- unrealistic dates of birth;
- photographs that do not look like the potential occupant;
- evidence that someone has attempted to alter the document; and
- inconsistencies between documents. This means that if more than one document is supplied you must cross reference the names, dates of birth and photographs between the documents.
Landlord record-keeping obligations
For manual checks, landlords must keep copies of the documents that the occupiers provide proving they have the right to rent, and a careful record of the date when you carried out the check.
The Home Office has issued the following specifications regarding these documents:
- copies should be a paper copy or a scanned and unalterable electronic copy;
- they should be legible;
- it should be possible to see clearly any dates, personal details and photographs;
- your record of when you carried out the check should be either a dated declaration written on the copy of the document(s) provided, or your own separate record; and
- the copies should be stored securely for the duration of the tenancy, and for another twelve months after it ends. The copies must then be destroyed, again in a secure fashion.
How to avoid allegations of discrimination
The law states that in England every landlord must apply these checks to all tenants, with no exceptions. Therefore, you should be consistent in your approach and check all prospective tenants without fail, regardless of their nationality, accent, appearance or other personal details of which you are aware. If you make your checks selectively you will almost certainly be committing an act of discrimination.
Special rules for landlords of individuals from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the USA (known as ‘B5JSSK nationals’). There is a special dispensation for landlords of properties rented out to nationals of these countries. You should make sure you see the original passport of nationals from these countries, and keep a copy of it as outlined above.
You are also required to ask for evidence of the date the person entered the UK, as this will most likely not be evidenced in their passport. Such evidence includes an original or copy of a boarding pass or other travel document showing the arrival date in the UK. You then have a twelve month period from that date during which time you are not liable for a civil penalty. However, you must schedule a follow-up check before the end of the twelve month period if the individual is still in occupation at the property.
Penalties for non-compliance
When it comes to non-compliance in relation to right to rent checks, the penalties can be significant. A landlord who fails to make the correct right to rent checks and is discovered to have rented accommodation to someone who does not have the right to rent may be liable to a civil penalty.
Where the Home Office suspects the landlord failed to carry out their obligations under the right to rent scheme, it will send an Information Notice to the landlord. This is an opportunity for the landlord to explain themselves. The Home Office will consider this and either issue a Civil Penalty Notice or a No Action Notice, along with an explanation of the decision.
A Civil Penalty Notice can be ‘objected’ to under the scheme or appealed directly in the County Court.
It is only by correctly conducting a right to rent check, and conducting a repeat check, as and when necessary, that a landlord will be able to establish a statutory excuse against civil liability. Liability for a civil penalty can also fall to a letting agent who was responsible for conducting the check(s) on the landlord’s behalf.
A Civil Penalty Notice will be issued for each illegal occupant housed at the property and could be several thousand pounds per occupant.
Non-compliance with the right to rent checks is also a criminal offence that can lead to up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine. However, this should only be relevant for people who are intentionally breaking the law and have done so on several occasions.
Specifically, where a landlord knew or had reasonable cause to believe that a tenant did not have the right to rent, but they still let the property to that person, the landlord could be sent to prison for up to 5 years and face an unlimited fine. Equally, if a landlord continues to let property after conducting a repeat check which reveals that the tenant no longer has the right to rent, and they fail to report this to the Home Office, they will knowingly be letting to a disqualified person and could again be sent to prison.
Please contact us if you have any queries relating to processes to verify UK immigration status.
Right to rent FAQs
Can non-UK nationals rent property in UK?
Foreign nationals have the right to rent property in the UK as long as they are living in the UK legally. This means they must have the correct identification and immigration documents to prove that they are living in the UK legally. However, landlords should be sure to check the right to rent of all their prospective tenants, regardless of whether they seem ‘foreign’ or not, in order not to breach discrimination laws.
What is a right to rent check?
A right to rent check is a check that must be conducted by landlords before letting their property in England to ensure that a tenant has the right to rent, together with a follow-up check if that right is time-limited.
What are right to rent documents?
Right to rent documents are documents that prove that you are in the UK legally and therefore have the right to rent a property in the UK. You are obliged to show a relevant document to your prospective landlord before your tenancy starts. The document must show that you have the right to live in the UK under UK immigration law. If you do not have the right to live in the UK then you do not have the right to rent in the UK.
Do right to rent checks need to be in person?
A right to rent check must be in person when conducting a manual check of the tenant’s original documents, where the adjusted right to rent check via video-link introduced during the coronavirus pandemic ended on 30 September 2022.
What documents do I need for a right to rent check?
The documents needed to conduct a manual right to rent check will depend on whether the tenant has an unlimited or time-limited right to live in the UK. There are two types of documents - List A documents and List B documents. List A documents show that the person has the right to rent, i.e. the right to stay in the UK, indefinitely. List B documents show that the person has the right to rent, i.e. the right to stay in the UK, for a limited period of time.
What must a landlord provide by law UK?
Landlords in England are legally obliged to check the immigration status of people who wish to rent property from them. These checks are known as ‘right to rent’ checks. Once the landlord has met the prospective occupiers in person and seen the correct documents for them, they are obliged to take a copy of the document and keep it on file along with the date the check was carried out. Landlords are not allowed to keep original documents.
What does right to rent mean?
Under UK immigration law, if a person does not have the right to live in the UK then they do not have the right to rent a property in the UK either.
Last updated: 2 January 2023