Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) licensing requirements sets out the national minimum standards that HMO accommodation must meet to ensure the safety and quality of accommodation.
- Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) licensing requirements sets out the national minimum standards that HMO accommodation must meet to ensure the safety and quality of accommodation. This includes a host of 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.
- As part of recent announcements on changes to accommodation to asylum dispersal, the proposed legislative change will temporarily exempt accommodation asylum seeker accommodation from (HMO) licensing requirements. These HMOs will be exempt for a two-year period following the date the accommodation begins use as asylum accommodation.
LGA Key Messages
Local government is aware of current pressures caused by high arrival numbers and share the wish to reduce the current use of hotels and to place dispersed asylum seekers in more permanent accommodation. The Home Office has stated that the standards for HMO asylum accommodation will be broadly in line with the current HMO licensing regime through the conditions of their contracts with providers and that no property would be brought online until it has been inspected by a Home Office (HO) contract inspector.
There is however concern that even if the new standards and inspection process is similar current HMO requirements, given HO operational pressures and capacity, current standards may not be able to be maintained. Councils are keen to work with government to ensure that accommodation continues to meet the current national minimum HMO standards and that a ‘two-tier’ system with lower standards and enforcement for accommodation for asylum seekers does not result from the change.
If current standards are not able to be maintained, we are keen to work with government to identify and mitigate potential risks including:
- asylum seekers spending a longer time in initial or contingency accommodation or being housed in unsafe accommodation whilst HMOs are inspected.
- asylum seekers potentially being placed into overcrowded rooms in overcrowded housing in neighbourhoods with existing high concentrations of asylum seekers, with potential community tension impacts and despite shared ambitions for a more equitable approach to housing asylum seekers across the UK
- An increase of substandard buildings leading to adverse impacts on the safety, health and wellbeing of asylum seekers. The removal of standards on the number of kitchen and bathroom facilities etc needed per occupant could in turn have a range of negative consequences. This includes the community cohesion implications of potential antisocial behaviour and increased pressure on public services, such as waste management and health,
- incentivising HMO landlords and temporary accommodation providers to switch their properties away from their existing use to HO contracts for asylum accommodation which may be more profitable. This could include properties which may not have previously met HMO standards. As well as leading to an increase in substandard properties, this could exacerbate local housing and homelessness pressures.
- as contracts for asylum will be managed by the HO, councils will have no ability to directly redress poor standards or safety issues and will have to report issues to the HO. It is likely that enforcement action could become much more complex and slower than the current locally led HMO licensing regime.
- Councils will no longer receive HMO licensing fees from properties that will be used for asylum accommodation which in turn could impact on the funding available for local support services.
In order to minimise risks and continually review the implementation of the change, we would be keen to see:
- governance set up between relevant government departments, the LGA, local authorities and other stakeholders to discuss how local partners can work together to make the proposed inspection regime work effectively and monitor the changes from the outset, utilising expertise from the local government sector. Whilst the sector was not engaged in the development of the change, government have indicated that they wish to put engagement structures in place going forward, although details of this have yet to be confirmed.
- co-design of how inspection teams will work with councils, to ensure intelligence will be shared in a mutually beneficial way and that there is a clear understanding of what standards HO Inspectors will be inspecting against, prior to a property being used as a HMO. There need to be an agreed process for how councils and other local partners will be able to quickly raise and redress accommodation that falls below current HMO standards as part of a jointly agreed safeguarding framework in place between local and national government. If councils are not engaged in the decision, as has happened in previous hotel procurement, then it should be clarified that the Home Office will take responsibility for safeguarding and supporting wellbeing.
- adequate new burdens funding to councils, such as additional funding through the Asylum Dispersal Grant, given the impacts on capacity and issues such as anti-social behaviour, cohesion, waste management and homelessness.
- a shared understanding of the aims and rationale of the change. We understand HO sees the current framework as creating a barrier to their providers acquiring accommodation quickly. It is however unclear how HMO licensing acts to slow down procurement because providers do not necessarily have to wait for an HMO licence to be in place before using properties.
- we would like to jointly explore the barriers that Home Office and their providers identify which could be addressed in other ways without the regulatory change being further extended. Given housing supply challenges, we are also keen to explore how funding and benefit flexibilities could allow more than one Ukrainian household moving on from sponsorship to live in one house, subject to minimum standards being maintained.
- we recognise that the regulations are a short-term measure in response to high arrival numbers. We would welcome a commitment that the change is designed to be a short-term solution within the currently defined timescales, given that asylum seekers should not remain in basic or potentially sub-standard accommodation without the protections available to the rest of their community.
- a commitment that the sector will be fully involved in the review of the promised temporary change, with ongoing review of and action on key issues and emerging risks. Local authorities will remain keen to retain their role in maintaining the quality, supply and distribution of HMO properties throughout their communities.
- a continued focus on the Regional Plans agreed in each region and devolved administrations as part of the move to full dispersal announced in April 2022. These remain key to increasing the amount of suitable accommodation for dispersed asylum seekers across the UK.