Landlords in the South West will need to carry out thorough immigration status checks on their prospective tenants before granting tenancies in the future – or face stiff penalties including the possibility of imprisonment, warns leading law firm Stephens Scown LLP.

The government is expected to include a new penalty of up to five years in prison for landlords who fail to carry out the necessary ‘right to rent’ checks on their tenants, while a fine of up to £3,000 per tenant is also possible. The changes are likely to be included in the Immigration Bill this autumn.

The move comes following a trial of the landlord checking service in the West Midlands which began in December 2014. Under the trial, landlords have to carry out checks to ensure their tenants are in the UK legally.

Veera Thakur, immigration advisor at Stephens Scown, said: “This represents a potentially major escalation of the immigration issue for landlords. We expect the government to simultaneously extend the checking service beyond the West Midlands to include the whole of England, and to significantly stiffen the penalties that could be imposed by the Home Office including hefty fines and even five years imprisonment in serious cases – this is the same as a fire-arm sentence.”

Stephens Scown is the only law firm in the region to have a specialist immigration team. The firm can provide advice to landlords on what checks are needed and what documentation they should be checking and retaining.

Veera continued: “It’s becoming increasingly serious that landlords get this right. Otherwise they face costly civil penalties, damage to reputation and delays in filling their properties. Repeat offenders who currently possess a multiple occupancy licence could see their licenses revoked or not be renewed. Landlords have to ensure they are making the right checks and collecting the right documentary evidence for each tenant – which will depend on whether they are British, have settled status or have only limited leave to stay in this country.

“The South West is a popular part of the country for visitors to come and settle in. The new requirements will affect thousands of landlords across the region.”