Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the National HMO Network (DHB 10)


  The National HMO Network notes that the Select Committee is seeking written evidence on the Draft Housing Bill in advance of the consultation exercise and submits the following initial response.


  The proposal for the licensing of HMOs is welcomed and long awaited. However, the Network does have a number of reservations and concerns about some of the proposals for HMOs.

  The consultation paper is lengthy at 274 pages and the draft bill appears to be overly complex. For example the definition of an HMO is covered by seven sections (164 to 170) rather than the current single section (345 of Housing Act 1985).


    —  The research on version one of the HHSRS (rating system) has never been published.

    —  We have concerns about how the rating system will be applied to HMOs particularly concerning the overall provision of fire precautions, amenities and overcrowding standards. These were not satisfactorily addressed in version one.

    —  It is understood that version two is unlikely to be available until the end of 2003 which makes it impossible to comment on the detail.

    —  There is currently no guidance on how the rating system should be used for enforcement. A particular concern is how changes in occupancy will affect the rating of an HMO and any subsequent enforcement action.

    —  There is concern over the proposed repeal of section 190 of the Housing Act 1985 which covers substantial disrepair and material comfort. This will remove an enforcement tool for tackling disrepair that is of concern to the tenants. Many disrepair matters will not be covered by the rating system. Dealing with disrepair and the overall improvement of houses is a fundamental plank of Housing Renewal Policy. Tackling disrepair can prevent houses from falling into major disrepair and becoming unsafe. Disrepair is also an element of the Decent Homes Standard.

    —  There is a need to have a quick way to deal with emergency hazards. The proposed Improvement and Prohibition Notices do not offer a speedy remedy.


    —  The definition of an HMO based on household is welcomed but the length of the definition has made it extremely complex and easy to misinterpret.

    —  It appears that section 164 will exclude certain hostel type accommodation where there is no sharing of amenities. An example would be a bed and breakfast premises accommodating 100 residents where all the rooms have en-suite bathrooms and WCs and full board is provided. These high risk HMOs need to be included.

    —  It is disappointing to note that it is proposed to restrict mandatory licensing to HMOs of 3 storeys or more and occupied by five or more persons who form two or more households. Our experience shows that in fact many two storey HMOs can be just as hazardous. There are a range of factors that contribute to risk and the number of storeys is only one element. Other elements are the number and vulnerability of the tenants, the layout of the property and other uses of the building. Ideally the mandatory scheme should cover all HMOs.

    —  The ENTEC report is now quite dated and it would be helpful if some new research was carried out to establish the level of risk in HMOs.

    —  The proposal to have additional licensing for "smaller HMOs" that fall outside mandatory licensing is welcomed if mandatory licensing is limited to certain HMOs but it will create a two-tier system. It appears that it is going to be an onerous and bureaucratic process to bring in additional licensing. The ability to adopt model schemes that can be rubber-stamped by the Secretary of State would be welcomed.

    —  It is felt that HMOs owned or managed by Registered Social Landlords should not be exempted from HMO licensing. Many RSL properties are aging conversions which do not comply with current standards. There is concern that the Housing Corporation is not in a position to regulate this sector and ensure these properties are brought up to standard.

    —  It is felt that University Halls of Residence and similar type buildings should not be excluded from the definition of HMO. Many of these buildings lack adequate fire precautions and are high risk due to the number of residents.

    —  The proposal to introduce national prescribed physical standards for HMOs is welcomed. This will ensure some consistency throughout the country and overcome the frequent complaints of landlords that every local authority has different standards. It would be helpful to see these draft standards.

    —  There is a need for more clarity on how these physical standards will link with the rating system.

    —  The intention to retain HMO management regulations is welcomed. The current regulations have a proven track record. They are easy to understand and have been a very important tool in driving up standards in HMOs. The current regulations do need up dating to reflect changes in technology and legislation.

    —  It is disappointing to note that section 372 of the Housing Act 1985 would be repealed. This gives the power to serve notice under the management regulations and enables the local authority to carry out works in default. It is felt that the power to serve notice and carry out default works should be retained.

    —  The Approved Code of Practice on the management of HMOs is welcomed. However, this should not be seen as a replacement for the management regulations.

    —  The new Interim and Final Management Orders are only likely to be used as a tool of last resort. It is of great concern that a local authority shall "use" this power if refusing or revoking a licence. The taking over of the management of an HMO is resource hungry and extremely expensive. It is unlikely that the rental income will cover costs incurred and there is no option to use compulsory purchase powers. A local authority would find it very hard to deal with more than one of these orders at a time. The current use of Control Orders is a good indication of the likely use of this power. It is felt that this power should be discretionary and include the option to use CPO powers.

    —  In most situations where a licence is to be refused or revoked it is felt that prosecution and the use of management regulation powers with the power to do works in default would be a better option that serving a management order.

    —  For HMOs that fall outside mandatory licensing there is a need to have appropriate powers to deal with these properties. The removal of most of the current powers is seen as a retrograde step.

    —  The definition of "fit and proper" person is welcomed. This is an opportunity to develop schemes to accredit landlords and ensure landlords acquire adequate training in the management of HMOs. There is a need of a central body or database to enable local authorities to share information about landlords who fail to meet the requirements of the "fit and proper" person definition.

    —  The draft bill is silent about transitional arrangements for current HMO Registration Schemes and Voluntary Accreditation Schemes. It is felt that there should be some passporting into licensing for HMOs that have complied with these existing schemes. This would reduce the burden on those local authorities and the landlords who have spent considerable time and effort in bringing HMOs up to standard under existing schemes.


  Paragraph 7 (page 17)—Comments on

  a)  A power to deal with badly managed HMOs outside the licensing regime through the making of IMOs

  b)  The scope of the proposed power

  c)  Requirement that a local housing authority should be required to apply to a county court to deal with individual problematic HMOs not required to be licensed.

  d)  The issue of statutory guidance about the circumstances in which this power can be used.

  The need for a power is accepted. However, it is felt that the proposal is too complicated and that a simple method linked to enforcement of management regulations would be a better approach.

  There is the need to be able to use CPO powers as an alternative to managing the property long term.

  In section 96 (1) there is great concern about the use of the word "shall". Some reasons have already been given earlier in this response about the mandatory requirement to serve management orders in certain circumstances. Additionally it is felt that this pushes the local authority straight into severe action without allowing any means to manoeuvre where matters are easily resolvable.

  The scope of the power is appropriate though the definition of a "high risk" HMO is not agreed with.

  There is concern about the appeal powers particularly given that landlords will be able to introduce mitigating evidence at a later stage. Suspension of the management order during an appeal will further hinder the local authorities power to act and can be costly.

  The need to apply to the County Court adds a further layer of bureaucracy and will lengthen the time to deal with a property. The power should lie with the local authority who should operate within published guidance. However, it is felt that the County Court should hear the appeals as they already have a wealth of experience in dealing with these matters.

  Paragraphs 8 to 11 (page 18)

  "The Government invites views on this."

  The view that there is no need to provide a similar power is supported.

  Paragraphs 12 & 13 (page 18)

  "The Government seeks your views on whether the authorised person should be required to be accompanied at all times by a police officer when exercising the power in this clause."

  It is considered that this proposal would be unworkable based upon current experience with the local police and other operational pressures upon them.

  We do welcome the without prior notice for power of entry.

  Appeals on housing conditions and licensing

  Paragraphs 1 to 4 (page 20)

  The Government invites views on whether appeals should be determined by the county court or a dedicated tribunal.

  It is considered that appeals can be deal with more efficiently and effectively through the County Courts.


  The National HMO Network supports the aims and objectives of this draft housing bill to improve standards, protecting tenants and tackling bad landlords and particularly welcomes the mandatory licensing of HMOs. However, if is felt that mandatory licensing should apply to all HMOs and that the current proposals are too limited. The definition of HMO is so complex that it is open to misinterpretation and confusion. Many of the exemptions in the definition of HMO are not supported. The proposed management orders appear too complicated and can only been seen as a tool of last resort. The management regulations along with a management notice need to be retained. There is also a need to retain adequate powers to deal with HMOs that fall outside licensing. There is a lack of information on the rating system and how it will be enforced which makes it difficult to comment. The removal of a whole house standard and the power to deal with disrepair is seen as a retrograde step.

Peter Brown

Chair of the National HMO Network

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