Potential changes to licence of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs): what’s the impact on the asylum-seekers?
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What are Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO)s?
A HMO is any home rented out, to three or more tenants, from more than one household. This applies whether it is a house or a block of flats and requires landlords to register with their local council. Any landlord renting to more than one household in a single property is required to have a HMO licence.
HMOs play an important role in the private rented sector by providing housing to meet the needs of specific groups such as students, low paid workers, those on benefits and asylum-seekers. High concentrations of HMOs, however, are perceived to create social problems, such as antisocial behaviour, litter, noise, problems with parking and pressure on local services.
HMO licensing requirements define the national minimum safety and quality standards for HMO accommodation, including critical protections around occupancy rates, compliance with safety requirements, sound management practices and a fit and proper persons test for landlords. Councils currently regulate the standards of HMO accommodation in their areas, through inspection and enforcement.
Recent reports have estimated that more than 45,500 people seeking asylum in the UK are accommodated in hotels, costing the Government £6m per day. The Government has indicated that it will end the use of hotels for such purposes and will explore using disused cruise ships and military barracks instead. As the Home Office’s use of hotels has become increasingly controversial, asylum support service agencies are now seeking properties of all types to house asylum-seekers, including traditional HMOs, family properties, former care homes, residential and student accommodation. The Home Office has expressed concern, however, that the 2004 Act’s licensing provisions, under Part 2 at least, are preventing them from doing so effectively.
Asylum Accommodation Service Contract (AASC) providers have also raised concerns that HMO licensing regulation is posing a barrier to acquiring such properties. Much of the dispersed asylum accommodation (especially for single individuals) is provided through HMOs, currently around 6000 HMO properties, accommodating 28000 asylum-seekers.
A temporary exemption and alternative regulation, via standards in the AASC, is being introduced to remove barriers delaying or impeding the acquisition of more sustainable and cost-effective accommodation for asylum-seekers and to relieve the pressure on estate. This means that an AASC provider for occupation by asylum-seekers would not need to be licensed for a period of two years.
Impact of the new changes to landlords of asylum-seekers
Some say that by discarding these protections to flex minimum space standards, the Government is putting thousands of people, including children and older people, at serious risk and creating a new underclass of tenant with no right to safety in their homes.
Impact of the new changes on asylum-seekers
Similarly, under the changes in the Housing Act 2004, landlords of asylum-seekers in England and Wales would no longer have to register with local authorities. The rules would allow landlords to house asylum- seekers for up to two years without obtaining a HMO licence.
Ministers hope that removing housing regulations for private landlords will also speed up the transfer of people away from hotels.
The suspension of the rules in relation to asylum-seekers only, means that landlords of will no longer have to provide gas or electrical safety certificates before this class of tenants move in.
Landlords will not be asked to supply documents on demand to show that electrical appliances and furniture are safe and usable. They will not have to comply with standards that require children under-10 to have a room measuring at least 4.6 sq metres and over-10s to a room measuring at least 6.5 sq metres.
Impact of the new changes to local authorities
During the period of the temporarily exemption, local authorities will no longer licence HMOs used as asylum accommodation and thus no longer receive licensing fees in respect of these properties. The change may also impact demand for other local authority services. The Home Office will provide funding to local authorities in recognition of the costs associated with accommodating asylum seekers in their area.
The Government has indicated that it will monitor the legislation at regular meetings between the Home Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and local authorities in order to understand the impact of the draft regulations and ensure the alternative regulation of housing standards.
The challenge of accommodating people seeking asylum has grown in the past year, and the appropriateness of measures taken by the Government to redress the imbalance between demand and supply will surely continue to make headlines, both political and legal. The Government’s recently published draft regulations are no exception. Politically, they call into question whether it is absolutely necessary or appropriate to sacrifice the objectives of HMO licensing at the altar of expediency, particularly given the vulnerability of those seeking asylum in the UK, who are presently accommodated by the Home Office. Whatever the ultimate effect of the draft regulations, one thing is clear: the issues associated with accommodating asylum seekers are merely evolving, not abating.
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