Memorandum by Universities UK (DHB 31)
1. Universities UK is pleased to respond
to the Committee's call for evidence on the Government's draft
Housing Bill on behalf of the Association of Directors of University
Estates, the Universities Safety and Health Association and the
Committee of University Business Officers.
2. The legislation covers five main areas.
Of these, Universities UK is primarily interested in Part 1 of
the Bill, concerning health and safety standards, and Parts 2
and 7, on the licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
3. Universities UK supports the Government's
proposed approach to licensing HMOs. The existing system is both
inconsistent and ineffective. We share the Government's view that
a licensing scheme should be designed to deal with those HMOs
that are at highest risk and we agree with the conclusion, in
the consultation paper accompanying the draft Bill, that mandatory
licensing of all HMOs would be unnecessarily expensive, overly
bureaucratic and likely to restrict housing of this type.
4. University owned and managed accommodation
is well managed by qualified professional staff, and consequently
low risk and this is reflected in the exemption from registration
under current legislation. To include such housing within the
ambit of a licensing scheme would not be consistent with the general
intentions expressed in the Consultation Paper. We therefore welcome
the Government's proposal to exclude university owned and managed
properties from the licensing scheme set out in Part 2 of the
5. We do, however, have some concerns about
Part 1 of the draft Bill, and will be seeking further clarification
from Government on the likely impact of this legislation on HEIs.
6. At present student housing owned or managed
by HEIs in England and Wales, some of which may constitute HMOs,
is (like housing provided by local authorities and registered
social landlords) exempt from HMO registration on the grounds
that registration of such property would be a) unnecessary and
b) costly. It is unnecessary because higher education institutions
(HEIs) are responsible landlords regarding accommodation standards
and management as of the first importance; the great majority
of occupants of HE provided accommodation are able bodied and,
in consequence, the health and safety risks are minimised; and
available information, particularly with regard to the incidence
of injury from fires, confirms the good safety record. It would
be costly because without this exemption institutions could be
liable to pay a registration fee per dwelling unita potential
cost to the HE sector overall estimated at about £40 million.
7. Universities UK agrees that the current
system of assessing the fitness of a house for occupation needs
to be replaced with one that better reflects present day hazards
and risks. Broadening the criteria however brings a danger that
HEIs might face the costs of meeting demands for improvements
in health and safety standards that are not justifiedgiven
the specialised nature of their accommodation and its occupancy
(see para 12 below).
8. In 1999 the Government issued a consultation
paper (Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation) setting
out the principles of a licensing scheme for HMOs which would
replace the registration scheme. In 2001, a further consultation
paper Selective Licensing of Private Landlords was issued.
9. In responding, Universities UK recognised
that a licensing scheme had the potential to be more effective
than the present registration regime. They welcomed the control
that would be exerted over unsatisfactory rented accommodation
in the private sector some of which was occupied by students.
10. Universities UK contended that, as in
the case of current registration regimes, specific exemption for
houses under the control of, or managed by, HEIs would be the
simplest and most appropriate solution given that the sector is
demonstrably low-risk (see para. 6 above).
11. A similar response was made to the Selective
Licensing Consultation Paper. And the same general line was taken
on the HMO provisions in the Home Energy Conservation Billa
private member's billin 2002.
12. On the Health and Safety in Housing
consultation paper (2001) Universities UK agreed with the general
objective of replacing the fitness standard with a system more
focused on risks to health and safety. A number of specific points
were made and two general caveats were entered. The first concerned
the possibility of an uncritical application of the proposed method.
That might result in some student housing being classified as
hazardous because of its unsuitability for elderly people for
example. The second stressed the need for clear guidance to local
authoritiesparticularly on the determination of whether
a hazard was, or was not, "acceptable".
(References are to clauses in the Bill).
13. On licensing of HMOs (Part 2 of the
Bill): student accommodation is included within the definition
of an HMO (164(3)). However, HEI owned or managed accommodation
is exempt from licensingas are local authority housing,
registered social landlords and some others (165(5)).
14. On health and safety (Part 1 of the
Bill): exemptions set out in Part 7 of the Bill (in respect of
licensing) do not apply to Part 1. All housing is (potentially)
subject to the health and safety provisions.
15. Universities UK welcomes the Government's
proposals to introduce a licensing regime applying to HMOs that
constitute the highest risk to occupants as consistent with meeting
the Government's stated aims in the most cost effective fashion.
16. With regard to Part 1 of the bill, we
will be seeking clarification of the Government's intentions.
We look forward to having an opportunity to look closely at the
draft regulations and accompanying codes of practice and policy
guidance, when they are available.
17. We will also be seeking clarification
of some of the definitions in the Bill. For example, the Bill
(Clause 2(1)) defines hazard in terms of "any risk of harm
to the health or safety of an actual or potential occupier".
The "potential" element gives rise to the possibility
of some student housing being deemed hazardous unnecessarily (see
paragraphs 12 and 14 of this note above). In university owned
and managed accommodation, the complexity of assessing the needs
of "potential" occupants is much reduced by the fact
all occupants will be students, and the university, in allocating
accommodation, can ensure appropriate provision is made for particularly
vulnerable students, eg those with disabilities.
18. For the same reasons, we will be seeking
to ensure that any amenity standards set by the Minister for university
owned and managed accommodation reflect the needs of students
rather the other groups who occupy residential property (Part
19. We are further concerned that there
is no longer a requirement to consult with the Fire Authorities
with respect to fire safety matters. Fire officers are able to
offer professional advice on fire safety matters and are, in general,
likely to have a wider range of relevant experience than local