The government has performed a U-turn over its plans to exempt accommodation for asylum seekers from HMO licensing requirements.
Eight asylum seekers had challenged the draft regulations which the government has now withdrawn ahead of a High Court hearing. Disclosed documents show that Housing Secretary Michael Gove (main image) previously expressed opposition to the plans.
Last year, more than 137 organisations including Crisis, Shelter, the Refugee Council and Amnesty International urged him to rethink proposals to remove licensing requirements for HMOs used as asylum accommodation.
They feared it would leave asylum seekers housed in unsafe accommodation with inadequate protections against fire and overcrowding.
The changes outlined in the Houses in Multiple Occupation (Asylum-Seeker Accommodation) Regulations would have exempted landlords in England and Wales offering asylum accommodation from regulations governing everything from electrical safety to minimum room sizes.
They would no longer have had to register with local authorities and could have housed asylum seekers for two years without getting an HMO licence.
The groups believe existing landlords and temporary accommodation providers would have been incentivised to switch their properties to asylum accommodation.
It could also have led to an increase in substandard properties and exacerbated local housing and homelessness pressures, with the potential for people seeking sanctuary to be blamed for causing them.
They said councils would no longer have received HMO licensing fees from properties used for asylum accommodation, drastically reducing the funds available for enforcement work.
Louise Hosking (pictued), executive director of environmental health at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, says: “These draft regulations risked creating a two-tier system for enforcement of standards in HMOs. They could also have incentivised unscrupulous landlords to move into the supply of asylum-seeker accommodation.”