MPs in England are set to vote on changes to Housing Regulations, which would result in reduced regulation for landlords who house asylum seekers within England and Wales. Landlords are currently required to obtain a Housing in Multiple Occupancy ("HMO") Licence for properties which home three or more people from two or more households and are sharing facilities within that property. The Houses in Multiple Occupation (Asylum-Seeker Accommodation) (England) Regulations 2023 ("the Regulations") will temporarily exempt landlords that enter into a tenancy with asylum seekers after the date in which the Regulations come into force from the obligation to obtain a HMO licence for a period of two years.
The Housing Act 2004 introduced the requirement for landlords to hold an HMO licence for applicable properties and sets out minimum standards which HMO accommodation must meet to ensure adequate health and safety. Examples of the duties imposed on landlords who own HMO accommodation include the requirement to have a gas and electricity safety certificate, minimum bedroom size requirements, and the requirement that the landlord be a fit and proper person. Failure to obtain an HMO licence for an applicable property is a criminal offence and offenders can be subject to the imposition of an unlimited fine.
Local Authorities in the UK are under a duty to provide accommodation to asylum seekers whilst they await the outcome of their cases with the Home Office. The proposed changes to the current HMO licence regime are prompted by the increased use of hotels for housing asylum seekers, which are deemed to be inadequate and unsuitable, and to reduce the costs on the taxpayer which are said to amount to £6 million per day. There are currently 50,000 asylum seekers being housed in hotels across the UK.
Baroness Scott of Bybrok, under the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities affirmed that all housing will still be subject to the wider private rented sector regulations and home office service providers are still obligated to provide "safe, habitable, fit for purpose and correctly equipped accommodation for all asylum seekers". The Local Government Association has criticised the proposed amendments and warned that it could "have a range of negative consequences".
These changes only apply to England and Wales and Scottish landlords will not fall under these proposed new exemptions. The UK government is introducing this measure as a statutory instrument with the result that it does not need to be voted on in the House of Commons. This will allow the Regulations to be implemented swiftly and landlords in England and Wales could see the new regulations in force in a matter of weeks.
If you have any questions or would like more information on this topic, please get in touch with Fiona McLeod or your usual Brodies contact.