Judgement in a court case reported yesterday may significantly reduce the Government’s ability to enforce its ‘Right to Rent’ policy, it has been claimed.
The case did not involve letting agents or landlords tasked since February 1 with checking the immigration status of tenants.
However, the outcome could suggest that the Government could be open to a legal challenge from an agent or landlord – but in what looks like very limited circumstances.
The Home Office has said it will not penalise an agent or landlord who has been caught out by a well forged document. However, agents and landlords must check documentation.
In the case, low-cost airline Ryanair was appealing against Home Office fines of £4,000 imposed for carrying two illegal immigrants into the UK.
Judge Damien Lochrane said that even trained immigration officers find it hard to spot forgeries.
He ruled that Ryanair – which was fined over £400,000 last year for carrying 200 passengers with forged or invalid paperwork – should not have been fined for flying the Albanian Couple from Majorca to Edinburgh in May last year.
The couple had already passed checks by Spanish border police as well as Ryanair, before their false documentation was finally picked by UK border control officers at Edinburgh airport.
The judge held that the way the regime for airlines to check passports is operated by the Home Office “offends the basic concepts of justice and indeed rule of law”.
The judge said that airline staff could not be expected to spot cleverly forged passports that even trained immigration officers found hard to detect.
Leading lawyer David Smith, policy director at the Residential Landlords Association, said that the ruling is not binding on other courts.
Despite that, he said it does raise the prospect that under the Right to Rent scheme an agent or landlord who has also been duped by a well forged document could be successful with an appeal against any action taken against them by the Home Office.
The Government has previously stated that it is not its intention to go after agents and landlords who have been deceived by clever paperwork, but has not been particularly clear on the detail.
It has emphasised that it will target letting agents and landlords who fail to carry out checks, and who are persistent offenders.
The Ryanair ruling comes as the new Immigration Bill continues to make its way through Parliament, and if passed will criminalise failures by agents and landlords to carry out Right to Rent checks.
Smith said: “This court ruling vindicates what we have been saying all along, that landlords cannot and should not be expected to act as border police or to detect forgeries that trained and experienced airline staff and immigration officers might miss.
“In light of this case and to save the Government money from losing similar actions brought by landlords, we call on the Government to provide better information to landlords about document forgeries and to offer more clarity as to the legal responsibility of landlords and agents duped by forged identify documents.”