Examination of Witnesses

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 20 Hydref 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Richard Lambert, Eric Leenders and David Smith gave evidence.

Q 119

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Llafur, Ynys Môn

Good afternoon. We are now hearing evidence from the sixth panel of witnesses, from the National Landlords Association, the Residential Landlords Association and the British Bankers Association. For this session we have until 3.45 pm. Could the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

David Smith: I am David Smith from the Residential Landlords Association, and I am the policy director.

Richard Lambert: I am Richard Lambert, chief executive officer of the National Landlords Association.

Eric Leenders: I am Eric Leenders, the executive director responsible for retail and private banking at the British Bankers Association.

Q 120

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

May I ask the panel—but I think probably Mr Lambert and Mr Smith in the first instance—about the provisions in the Bill dealing with the duties on landlords to carry out checks before renting to, or allowing premises to be occupied by, a person without the right immigration status? Do you have concerns about those provisions, from the perspective of the landlords, and do you have any comment about the concern of others that there could be a default position leading to discrimination—in other words, landlords being so concerned, because it is a complicated exercise and they are not entirely sure what they are doing, that it is easier simply to default to a position where you rent to somebody who is pretty obviously British, or who has a British passport?

David Smith: We have four areas of concern, so yes to your first question and, actually, yes to your second as well, but in a different way. We are concerned about the  speed with which the second Bill has been brought forward when the first Act, the Immigration Act 2014, is not fully in force. It was announced only two hours ago that the pilot that has been evaluated in the west midlands will be rolled out across the country from 1 February. That pilot was held by the Immigration Minister to be a success, so we are not clear why there needs to be a set of criminal provisions on top of civil fines, which are, apparently, already effective. We would urge Parliament to take its time as it goes through implementation of the changes.

We are concerned about document discrimination—so not so much discrimination on grounds of nationality as discrimination on the grounds of people not having passports. Having a passport is far and away the simplest way to check somebody, so we are concerned that landlords, rather than just discriminating against people, will simply take the path of least resistance, especially as more pressure, potentially, is applied to them, with the possibility of ultimately going to jail. Indeed, I note from the evaluation that was published a few hours ago that one example was given, by one of the interviewees, of a situation of somebody without a passport being refused accommodation. So we are concerned about that.

We are concerned about the way in which the offences come into effect. The way the Bill is drafted, as soon as the Secretary of State has served a notice informing a landlord that they have illegal immigrants in their property, they are immediately committing the offence of having illegal immigrants in their property. It takes 28 days before you can possibly evict those people, so there are 28 days during which they are committing an offence. It has been suggested to us that the Home Office will not seek to prosecute, but it would seem to me that the only person who could give such an assurance is the person who is now filling your old job, Mr Starmer, at the CPS, the prosecuting body.

It would also be normal with offence of this type to have a provision that says that a landlord can establish a reasonable excuse—for example, if they have been severely ill or something like that—and that provision is not there.

The last thing is the air of confusion about two aspects in particular. First, the helpline has been described as a helpline, and was stated as such the other day. However, it has also been described to us as only being there to check for asylum seekers and people who do not have documentation. We would like to know which it is, and whether it will be fully funded as a helpline, so as to be effective.

The other thing that is notable from today’s announcement is that the provision is to be rolled out from 1 February, but it is not clear whether it will only apply to new tenancies commencing on or after 1 February, because it has also been stated to us in other meetings that it may apply to tenancies that are already in place on 1 February. It would be very nice to have some clarity on that, because it would be an extremely serious problem. I see that the Immigration Minister is shaking his head, which may give me the answer to that question.

Richard Lambert: We have concerns about placing this kind of responsibility on landlords, who are not trained for it and are not familiar with it. However, we have taken the view that we have to try to make sure that if this system is going to be introduced, it is as  straightforward and practical as possible for landlords to operate. That has been the level of our discussions with the Home Office and other agencies throughout the past year, since the previous Act was introduced.

On concern about discrimination, we were probably more concerned about discrimination when the original policy was announced, or at least I was more concerned at that time than I am now. That is partly as a result of my going round and talking to local landlord meetings, as I do regularly. Rank and file landlords in our organisation are very worried about this issue, and those outside the pilot area are more worried than those inside it. One of the things that really comes back to me is, “How will we be able to tell if somebody is British? You can’t just look at them and say they are British. You can’t see their name and say whether or not they are British. In this day and age, you can’t even listen to their accent and say whether or not they are British.” So what we find is that landlords are moving towards the assumption that, in the same way that employers now tend to check all identities regardless of nationality, landlords will check identification, to make they cover off this particular aspect.

Q 121

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

I thank our witnesses for giving evidence this afternoon, and I also thank the relevant landlord bodies for their participation in the round-table sessions that we have had and will continue to have throughout the detailed implementation of the Bill.

I want to come on to one of the parts of the Bill that relates to the termination of tenancies. When landlords discover someone who is in the country illegally, they will be able to resolve that issue in a speedier fashion through the landlord and tenant legislation. Would that be welcomed by the sector?

Richard Lambert: Most definitely. Our big concern about the initial Act was what would happen once a landlord found they had a tenant who no longer had the right to rent, or who they thought had the right to rent but turned out not to have it. How could the landlord end the tenancy as quickly and as cleanly as possible, without necessarily getting into the whole court process? One of the problems with a court process is that it can be very protracted, yet the landlord is in the position of having committed an offence.

What we wanted to see was a process that moved that forward as quickly and clearly as possible. The provision in the Bill whereby the Home Secretary issues a notice once the Home Office has been informed that a tenant no longer has the right to rent achieves that. We have some concern about a power that has always been with the courts moving over to the Executive, but that is a constitutional principle for Parliament, ultimately, to decide. For our purposes, and looking at the practicalities, the power should work effectively.

David Smith: There are a couple of different points to make. First, it is generous of you to put in a provision to allow eviction of Rent Act tenants, but it is possibly not entirely necessary, as Rent Act tenants will have lived in the UK for so long that they are almost certainly entitled to stay here anyway, irrespective of how they entered the country.

The other part of it that I am a little bit more concerned about is with relation to assured shorthold tenancies and the power you have put in to evict. As I  read it, it would still require an amendment to the tenancy itself for that power to be exercised, in that ground 7A can only be used inside a fixed term if it is mentioned in the tenancy agreement. So that ground for possession would require a lot of landlords to change their tenancies, which it is obviously their responsibility to do, but there is obviously a substantial piece of education that will need to be done in the sector, which I accept is our responsibility—possibly more than it is yours.

The other point is the issue of transfer of tenancies, so where there is a group of tenants, some of whom are illegal immigrants and some of whom are not, there is a power for the court to transfer the tenancy. The first point is that it is easily got around by simply issuing proceedings for some other ground for possession as well, which is relatively easy to do. The other problem about it is: how will you deal with all the other side bits that go with it—for example, tenancy deposit protection?

If a deposit is registered in one group of tenants’ names and the tenancy is transferred by the court to a different group of tenants’ names, the deposit protection schemes will need to have the deposit re-registered, and something will need to be done to deal with that contractual positon. So I am a bit concerned as to how that will work. In practice, I am afraid the mechanics are a little bit more complex in terms of shifting tenancies around between tenants.

Q 122

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

The detailed input given thus far has been helpful in flushing some of those issues and, no doubt, those discussions will continue.

Given the time, I should ask Mr Leenders about the banking provisions. The new provisions in clause 18 are on existing bank accounts and the ability to take action. That may be linked to some of the other issues we have touched on in the session, such as proceeds of crime legislation, linked to the employee criminal sanction that was highlighted in a previous session. Will you comment on the practicality and operation of that?

Eric Leenders: Certainly. We have some experience through the Immigration Act 2014 of implementing the required database search for new accounts that customers might want to open. That has given us some experience and some learning. The three-stage process in the Immigration Bill is broadly similar in the sense that first there is the status check, currently through CIFAS. Then there will be notification of any matches back to the Home Office, which is the three-point match, and no fuzzy logic, which gives a clear indication of those particular clients that we might need to close accounts for. The differential is the action that is then taken.

Essentially, though, as we understand it, there are two ensuing actions. First would be an instruction to close the account. We are working closely with HM Treasury officials to understand how that might work in practice—if I may, I will come back to that point. Second would be some form of freezing order through the courts that might facilitate ongoing regular payments, potentially for rent and other things, if there are subsequent actions that the individual might need to take.

In the context of closing the accounts, some of the challenges I think we find are, first, which types of accounts? We know it is individual accounts, joint accounts, additional signatories, charities and some smaller accounts,  but is it all those instant access accounts or is it simply current accounts? That has been a challenge that we faced that was clarified, I think on the Floor of the House, with the Act.

There is also the treatment of balances, particularly of course for overdrafts. That has a bearing on the amount of time we would consider appropriate for actually closing the account. Currently, the default would typically would be 28 days, but, if there is an overdrawn balance, we would probably like to see that paid and the account closed quicker to lessen the propensity for that overdraft to drift up again.

I think we have a bit of an issue where there might be knowledge of a disqualification but we might not hold the qualifying account. These days we tend to have financial services across a range of providers, and the extent to which our responsibility might be to disclose to those whom we feel might hold the account, or whether we do nothing, is a moot point just now.

The granularity of disclosure once we have given notice to close the account is something that we are working on with Treasury officials. Currently we are looking at whether that should include balances, additional parties to an account or details of regular payments, which potentially would include details of the originating account for that regular payment. That is not information that we would necessarily find easy to extract from systems, so that is an additional build for us.

In the Financial Conduct Authority we have obligations to treat customers fairly. We found with the Act that there are some cohorts of consumers where actually it is quite difficult, in the sense that those with no fixed address might not have suitable matching criteria to pass through the database, so then we should call them out. That of course creates a customer service issue. Elderly consumers are another area—perhaps they have not registered on the electoral roll and therefore, again, we might need to call them out. We need to get that referral process quite slick.

We will in parallel need to implement the payments accounts directive, which has a requirement that you are familiar with to do with account opening for citizens legally resident in the European Union, which is a different definition and criterion to work through.

In terms of the pragmatics, as we envisage what we call operationalising, we would see that first wave of checks across a database—it might be as many as 120 million-something accounts, so there will be a volume of activity. Thereafter, if we were to undertake checks quarterly, say, we would be very keen just to check any additions and amendments to a register, rather than to have to sheep-dip the whole database.

The final point of course is the timeline. We have had some useful clarifications, again, from Treasury officials that suggest that the first checks might not take place until the latter stages of 2017. Typically, banks need something of the order of 18 months to implement mandatory change processes and to go through testing and assurance internally. We might be able to foreshorten that—we are talking about a period of about, say, 12 months. Whatever we can do ahead of the detail in the secondary legislation would be very helpful to us.

Q 123

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

Thank you for that detailed and comprehensive answer on the provisions, which is quite helpful and instructive on the level of detail that is  engaged here. Just briefly, perhaps you could reflect on the provisions of the Immigration Act 2014 and their implementation. What has been the practical experience? Clearly a lot of this quite detailed analysis was engaged there as well. What has been the situation to date?

Eric Leenders: On volumes, I think we have seen about 1.9 million searches go through the CIFAS database. From that we have identified some 14,000 matches against the database, and those have been referred back to the Home Office. That has in turn identified some of these issues such as people with no fixed address or those elderly consumers. So we can draw on that experience to inform our thinking around the Bill.

We consider that the CIFAS process is working quite well. The truncated timeline was difficult, frankly; there was an element of manual processing, and with manual processing there is, unfortunately, a higher propensity to or risk of error. So that is why we called for that slightly longer timeline—to ensure that as far as possible we can automate and therefore reduce the error rate within the process.

Q 124

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Civil Liberties)

I want to talk about potential discrimination under the right to rent aspects of the Bill. Not everyone is as enlightened as Mr Lambert, and so not everyone believes that you cannot tell by a face, a name or an accent whether someone is British. I was very struck by a statement sent out by the Residential Landlords Association, which I am going to read from:

“Whilst the Residential Landlords Association condemns all acts of racism the threat of sanctions will inevitably lead many landlords to err on the side of caution and not rent to anyone whose nationality cannot be easily proved.”

How concerned are you that the Bill will allow some people to use it as an excuse for their racism and that others will inadvertently end up acting in a racist manner, not because they want to but out of fear that they may end up breaking the law if they do not?

Richard Lambert: How concerned am I that some will use it? Very. How concerned am I that some will use it inadvertently? Fairly, but our experience is that most of the concern about the provisions is from people who have not gone into the detail, are worried about what they might have to take on, are concerned that they do not have the expertise or knowledge and are very focused on the penalties, because what has been pushed hardest is not the responsibility or the practicality but the level of penalty for getting it wrong.

Having had a quick look, like my colleague, at the evaluation report that was published this morning—we had a chance to look at it before we came in here—something like 22 of the 26 landlords who responded said that it was actually relatively easy to undertake the checks and that there did not seem to be an obvious level of overt discrimination, although there is still an undertone, and in a few cases that does happen.

It is a real risk, but when I said what I did about awareness of the fact that we live in a multicultural, multiracial, multifaceted society, that was not me speaking—obviously, I believe that—but me recounting what has been said to me by landlords at local meetings around the country. They are very concerned about the practicalities of how you make this work, and they realise that you cannot make assumptions, from looking at somebody, about whether they have the right to rent  or whether they are a British national. The only way is to check and to check everyone. I recall anecdotally from my colleagues on the Home Office working group on the evaluation report that the largest level of resentment coming back from tenants was from the indigenous white British population, who did not understand why they were being asked to prove the right to rent. You actually get a counter-intuitive response.

David Smith: People who will discriminate would discriminate anyway, so in a sense people who are going to actively discriminate as a result of the Bill would have been actively discriminating before. Our biggest concern is what we have chosen to call document discrimination. Of the UK indigenous populace—or however you want to describe those people—17% do not have passports. If a landlord has two people walk through his door who want to rent the same property, and one says, “I have a passport and can do the right to rent check right now,” and the other says, “I do not have a passport but will come back tomorrow with two forms of identification off the secondary list,” the landlord is technically not breaking the law by taking the first person, and in practice I am sure that he will take that first person.

Our concern is that there are groups of people who are not in possession of passports and driving licences. As a lawyer, I have many such people as clients, because I have a large client base of elderly people or people who are in care. There are substantial numbers of those people, and a lot of them are renting, increasingly in the private rental sector, as there is a change from social renting to private renting. There is a potential difficulty with providing those people with proper identification.

We have called for a much simpler document for people who are on benefits and would already have been checked to receive benefits. Local authorities could provide a single document—perhaps watermarked or stamped—that landlords could be clearly told was acceptable as a single document. At the moment those people are going to need to produce two separate documents. They may not have them to hand, or it may take time to acquire them. The benefits letter has to be signed by a named official, and named officials may be reluctant to put their names on these documents. Our concern is that groups of people who should have no reason to be concerned by this legislation at all may find themselves being put through checks that they cannot easily meet.

Q 125

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

I declare an interest as per my declared interest in the Members’ register. For the record, I am probably what Mr Smith calls one of those in his sector who are amateurs and accidental landlords. One thing I know from experience, although I may be an amateur, is that the eviction process is incredibly burdensome for landlords. It is far too lengthy and hugely costly, and when you are going through the process, you do not get any rent from the tenant who is in your property. That is the current situation, whether they are an illegal immigrant or not. I cannot for the life of me understand, and neither can the members of Calderdale Landlords Association, whom I have spoken to, why on earth as an organisation you would be against something that is far better and makes it far quicker for a landlord to evict a tenant in these circumstances.

David Smith: In what sense?

Q 126

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

You said very clearly that you had some real concerns around the eviction process that was being proposed. You mentioned the 28 days, for example. That is a much quicker process than what is currently in place.

David Smith: I said that my concern was that as soon as the Secretary of State had issued a notice to a landlord, they are committing an offence, and it takes 28 days before they can even begin the eviction process. During those 28 days they are committing the offence of having an illegal immigrant in their property.

Q 127

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

But they are already committing an offence as the law currently stands, and the process of evicting a tenant takes much longer. What I would like to know is why on earth you are advising landlords that this element of the Bill is not particularly—

David Smith: I think there is a misunderstanding here. They are not committing an offence as the law is currently drafted, because it has not changed yet. If it were to be changed, what we are after is a situation where, provided that the landlord is proceeding diligently to carry out the eviction, they are deemed not to be committing the offence of having an illegal immigrant in their property—so they have what the Act has termed a statutory excuse. As the situation stands, as soon as the Secretary of State issues the landlord with a notification that the tenant in their property is an illegal immigrant, the landlord is instantly deemed to be committing an offence of having an illegal immigrant in their property, and they can be prosecuted for that.

Q 128

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

So the new eviction process in the Bill is a good thing. Is that what you are saying?

David Smith: Yes. I have no concern about that at all.

Q 129

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

Okay. Can I just ask you about document checks, which have been mentioned? I just wonder whether you guys actually understand what is going on in your sector. If you try to get accommodation from an agency, for example, as I recently did here in London, first, you have got to be there on the day to secure something, and if you cannot get down to London to physically go and see it, you will lose it. Secondly, if you do not have the checks, whether you are an illegal or a legal resident in this country, it is a very difficult process anyway, because that is what people demand. Have you considered for one minute that for the amateurs and accidental landlords that you refer to, the introduction of some form of check, as is happening in the Bill, will protect them in other ways as well as just against potential illegal immigrants?

David Smith: Well, I suppose there are two answers to that. First, the current guidance would imply that using checks in other ways might well be unlawful discrimination, because the document checks are for establishing the right to rent, so that would depend on the guidance that is issued.

Q 130

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

But we have that in place anyway. If I do not have those documents to prove to an agency that I am who I am when I want to rent a property, whoever I am, guess what? I do not get the property.

Richard Lambert: To be fair, I think that that is custom and practice through tenant checking rather than a strict legal requirement. The other difficulty is that in some elements of the private rented market, lower-income people, people on benefits, vulnerable people and people who are very transient simply do not have that kind of documentation to hand.

Q 131

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

Okay. Let me just ask one final question, because I think I have made my point on that one. My question is to you, Mr Lambert, because you mentioned an undercurrent of discrimination in the system. May I point out that no evidence at all from the pilot—which, okay, was only published this morning—suggests that there is a discrimination there? You said that you have heard hearsay from people you have spoken to, but may I ask whether you have any physical evidence to suggest that there might be some form of discrimination in the system?

Richard Lambert: If you read the full report, I think it mentions one or two examples in the focus group that refer to what could be interpreted as minor levels of discrimination.

Q 132

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Ceidwadwyr, Calder Valley

So there is no real evidence—

Richard Lambert: That is what I am saying: there is no strong evidence of discrimination, although there is the potential there, and some minor level of concern may emerge in the focus group.

Q 133

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

Will the panel give us their assessment of what numbers might be involved in the area of policy that we are talking about? Do you have any assessment in particular of how many prospective tenants might present themselves to your members, or how many bank accounts in the case of Mr Leenders?

Richard Lambert: We can talk about how many households are in the private rented sector—there are about 4.4 million at the moment—and I think there is a turnover rate of about 25% to 30% a year, so we are looking at just over 1 million to 1.25 million new tenancies a year.

Q 134

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

Of those, do you have a sense of how many might fall under the provisions of the Bill?

Richard Lambert: None whatsoever.

David Smith: In a sense, they should all be falling under it, because landlords are required to check every new tenant, so one would assume that 1.2 million of them will require checks. How many of those people will then be found to have established the right to rent is perhaps one of the most hotly contested questions before this Committee, I would have thought.

Q 135

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

That is exactly what I am driving at. Could you give us your view on it?

David Smith: We have no information, clearly, as to how many unlawful immigrants there are within the private rented sector. The reality, as I think has been established before, is that landlords who are routinely and knowingly renting to illegal immigrants are probably breaking the law in a vast range of other exciting ways and are therefore intentionally well below the radar. Landlords who do not know that they are renting to  illegal immigrants do not know that they are renting to illegal immigrants. Therefore, the information is extremely hard to come by.

Q 136

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

Just sticking with the two landlords, if I may, before coming to Mr Leenders on the same question, your organisations are membership organisations, clearly, and you know how many members you have. Do you have any sense of how many members you do not have? In other words, how many landlords are under the radar, to use your phrase?

Richard Lambert: That again is difficult to say—for under the radar. I estimate that there are probably about 100,000 landlords in all the landlord associations throughout the country—ours and the many little local landlord associations that exist. So there are probably about 1.4 million landlords who are not in landlord associations. It is then about what you mean by “under the radar”. If you mean the people who are completely illegitimate, who are renting beds in sheds and are probably landlords incidentally, because actually what they are is organised criminals and the housing element just comes in as part of that, they are more interested in prostitution, people trafficking, money laundering and so on, who knows? We could not tell that. What we do know is that there are probably about 1.3 million to 1.4 million people renting out property who are not directly engaged with our organisations or any other organisation. Our concern is always where they get their information from, how they know that what they are doing is the right thing, and how they learn about what is best practice or, indeed, about changes in the law.

David Smith: You should be aware that of landlords not in our organisations a significant number will be using letting agents who, themselves, are perhaps not always perfect either—a significant percentage of them do not fall under any professional body. A goodly percentage of them are aware of their responsibilities and will no doubt learn about them as they go forward. In a sense, there is a force multiplier effect by engaging landlord organisations, which can capture a good percentage of landlords, and by engaging letting agent organisations, which will pick up a lot of landlords who choose not to join a landlord membership body.

Q 137

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

Mr Leenders, any reflections?

Eric Leenders: I think we can identify 123 million instant access accounts. If we were to apply the experience from the Immigration Act of roughly 1% of searches being referred to the Home Office, that would potentially lead to a working assumption of about 1 million or 1.2 million searches being referred to the Home Office. That, in itself, surfaces an operational point about the readiness of the Home Office to deal with that volume in the initial wave of searches in the first quarter of the implementation of the Act. That is just one of those technical issues that we would like to work through. We might be able to find mitigants to that. For example, we might be able to strip out those who currently hold UK passports, but that is detail that we can work through in secondary legislation. I would not see that as a primary legislative point at all.

Q 138

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have two small, mopping-up questions. Mr Leenders, you went through the customer service and administrative burdens that the legislation  puts on you, but are you largely in favour of it? Are there any unintended consequences of the legislation that we should be aware of?

Eric Leenders: We do not have a policy position on the Bill, nor did we on the Immigration Act 2014. There are some customer service points that give a little cause for concern. Referring customers with a seven-day service level agreement to the Home Office leaves them, effectively, in limbo for a period, and that customer might, quite justifiably, be entitled to an account. We do not feel that is the best experience, so we would want to work through one or two details like that. We would certainly want to have a period of testing—we are already encouraged by the Treasury giving some consideration to its own pilot exercise—presumably during the formulation of the secondary legislation, such that the customer impacts are minimised so far as possible.

Q 139

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Mr Smith and Mr Lambert, I was surprised by how small the sample size was in the west midlands pilot results. Of the 67 respondents who are tenants, 60 are students. My assumption is that students are much more likely to have passports and letters of authority from their institutions. Do you believe that this is a skewed sample?

Richard Lambert: The evaluation period could have been better. It could have been a lot longer. We would have said, ideally, a year to 18 months because most tenancies last more than six months. In order to understand how this process works, you have to give it that length of time so you can see tenancies coming to an end, and limited right to remain coming to an end and you can see how that renews. It also took place at what is probably the slowest time of the year so, inevitably, there were not going to be a lot of tenancies turning over. Then there were the difficulties of contacting the population. It is interesting that in a university area, most responses to the request for tenant respondents came from students who are possibly more likely to be active in some of the social issues and more aware of these things going on.

David Smith: Students are also, to a large extent, exempt from checks. Students are nominated into accommodation by their educational institutions so any student in a hall of residence is effectively exempt from checks anyway. Given that areas around Dudley and West Bromwich are not substantial student areas—parts of my family come from the area—it is a shame that there was such a high student sample. I would have liked to have seen a sample that more adequately represented a wider spectrum of social demographic groups. We remain concerned about the effects, not so much on, for example, Members of Parliament renting homes, but on people in the lower social demographics who increasingly are coming into the private rented sector, will have difficulty with this legislation and are often driven into the arms of less salubrious landlords.

Q 140

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

I know from your written evidence that you call for a clearly understood and properly resourced helpline for landlords. Will you share your members’ experiences of the helpline during the pilot? A recent written answer from the Minister, for which I am very grateful, revealed that there were two full-time equivalent staff for the helpline. Was that sufficient for your members?

David Smith: We have not had any particular feedback. We have certainly had calls to our member helpline from members. I do not know whether that means that they were not happy with what they got. We are concerned about whether the helpline will continue to be resourced as a helpline once we are talking about all of England. That is not clear yet—I am looking at the Minister to see whether he nods or shakes his head. I can tell you that we run a member helpline and that more than two people staff it. It is that simple. Two people will not be enough to cover all of England, but I am not clear about the plans for widening the helpline.

If the helpline is not adequately staffed, there is little point in having it, I suspect. We would like more online resource. I note that, in the evaluation—the guide that was published today—the Government have highlighted the European PRADO database, but it covers only EU documents, not EEA documents. My members are not familiar with Liechtenstein passports, not that they would necessarily see a great many of those. However, many members are likely to believe that countries such as Ukraine are in the EEA, which they are not. We are therefore concerned about people both ignoring countries of which they should take account, and thinking that countries that they have seen in the news recently, which are around the fringes of the EU, must be in the EU.

We are also concerned about the potential for forgery that is opened up on list B. Several documents on there are potentially prone to forgery with a laser printer and we are very worried about the risk our members run of prosecution for not being the most adept spotters of forgeries. Immigration officers frequently examine passport documents and they are highly trained in that. My members are not equipped with UV scanning lights or skilled watermark detection systems, and I am afraid that many of them would not know a watermark if you asked them about it anyway. I am therefore concerned about how they will detect the more sophisticated forgeries, and what the break point is for what they should detect. I am not worried about sellotape.

Q 141

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Llafur, Ynys Môn

Can we just get the questions and then we will have the answers?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Ceidwadwyr, Rochester and Strood

Mr Smith, you mentioned earlier businesses or associations that are part of your organisation, and you said that landlords who wilfully engage in this sort of activity will fall under the radar. Do you agree that the tougher penalties in the Bill target those very people?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset

I wondered whether Mr Smith wanted to reflect on his comment that there were not many students in Dudley. That will come as a shock to Dudley College, which has worked closely with the University of Wolverhampton since 1999, offering, among other courses, a PGCE and a Certificate in Education post compulsory education, and has six campuses. That suggests to me that there are quite a lot of students in Dudley.

David Smith: In which case, I immediately withdraw any suggestion that Dudley is not a substantial student town, with my apologies.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset

So the corollary is that the baseline with the data that the evaluation mentioned is possibly a little more bona fide than you first indicated.

David Smith: It is still the case that there is a large number of student responses, and I would have liked to see data that drew on groups of people who were absolutely not students. I am prepared to accept that, yes, there may be more students in those areas than I envisaged, but that does not change my primary concern, which is that, from what I can see, having looked at the evaluation briefly, there are a lot of students in the responses. That potentially skews the data and I would like to see a study that was drawn from outside the student population, if possible.

Ms Tolhurst, I am not immediately convinced that increasing penalties in and of itself will smoke out bad landlords. Bad landlords are already subject to a raft of housing legislation with varying penalties. I do not know whether many people saw the story in The Times on Saturday, which was based on freedom of information data that my organisation obtained. They show very poor enforcement by local authorities. I do not know what level of enforcement of this legislation there will be through the Home Office. If it is actively enforced against bad landlords, then, yes, I would agree with you—if.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Llafur, Ynys Môn

That brings us to the end of the time allocated for the Committee to ask questions in this session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for their evidence. Again, if there is anything they feel they need to add to the answers they have given, please write to the Committee Clerks.