Stephen Moss is founder of Pring.co.uk, the UK’s biggest investment property portal. Here he talks about Government plans to introduce penalties of up to five years in prison for landlords that let properties to illegal immigrants

The residential property sector makes a valuable contribution to the nations economic life. We absorb the knocks of fluctuating interest rates, new-build shortfalls, banking collapses, economic downturns and population shifts with barely a murmur.

We pay our taxes, keep our heads down, work hard and hopefully make a fair return for our efforts at the end of the day.

At no point in the broad description, did anyone make any reference to being an unpaid police force or a defined and unrewarded arm of the civil service, existing for the purpose of implementing government policy.

Suddenly, panic stricken by the swelling migrant crisis and stranded by the conflicting forces of public opinion and social responsibility, the Government has decided the illegal immigration problem is a residential landlord’s problem.  Announcements this week mean landlords will be required to make sure people who rent out their properties are legally entitled to be in the country.   Before agreeing a lease, they’ll have to check a migrant’s status.

This means if we house these unfortunate people, even when being begged to co-operate by local authorities, social workers or charities, participants in the residential sector will expose themselves to the risk of huge fines or worse – prison sentences.

The Government sees using landlords as immigration police a cheaper and less troublesome solution to tackling the problem head on.

Property investors are business people and not unpaid policy puppets.

Are we to be judges, jury, police and administrators of this ill-considered policy?

The danger is that the policy could lead to discrimination against those legally entitled to be in the UK.  Most property investors don’t have the expertise or knowledge needed to carry out immigration checks properly.  This could mean they inadvertently discriminate against those that are actually allowed to be in the UK.  There are many types of documentation that can prove a person’s right to be in the UK – not just a passport.

Property investors can’t be expected to know the ins and outs of this and be able to spot increasingly sophisticated forged documents.  It could open the doors for discrimination claims against landlords who deny a person accommodation in their attempt to avoid falling foul of the new rules.

The Government’s job is to govern – ours is to make a return on investment properties and not to control immigration.