What is a HMO?
Local HMO Plans
Ten Point Plan
Leeds HMO Lobby
Use Classes Order
Taxation of HMOs
Students & Community
National HMO Lobby
HMO & UCO
1 The National HMO Lobby welcomes the Report by
ECOTEC on Evidence
Gathering - Housing in Multiple Occupation and possible planning
responses, published by Communities & Local Government
(CLG) on 26 September 2008. The Lobby has long advocated amendment
of the Use Classes Order (UCO),
in particular Class C3, in response to problems posed by houses
in multiple occupation (HMOs), in all the countries of the UK. The
Lobby responded to the government consultation of 2002, and it welcomed
the amendment of the UCO in Northern Ireland in 2004. It was disappointed
that the English UCO revision of 2005 overlooked amendment of Class
C3. Its responses to consultations on From Decent Homes to Sustainable
Communities and The Supply of Rented Housing, both
in 2006, raised the matter. The Lobby welcomed the recognition of
the issue by the Commons Select Committee's report on Coastal
Towns, and by CLG itself in 2007, and the subsequent commitment
to consultation made by the Planning Minister in the Commons on
15 January this year. Members of the Lobby contributed actively
to the research by ECOTEC, and to the Seminar at CLG in April, on
which the present Report is founded.
2 The National HMO Lobby nevertheless has some
reservations regarding aspects of the Report.
2.1 In section 4.1.2 of the Report, it is quite
mistaken to assume that the changes to the planning system under
consideration are intended "to deal with the spatial distribution
and concentration of particular social groups" (p37). The proposals
are entirely concerned with HMOs (and their place in the UCO), which
are very evidently a particular use of land or property (as is clear
on page 43). The point is that this usage is quite distinct from
other uses within Class C, in terms of density, range, duration
and structure of occupation, quite regardless of who the occupants
are (see the Lobby's 'What is a HMO?').
Indeed, section 2.2 (p11) lists a whole variety of very different
households which occupy HMOs (including students, claimants, seasonal
workers, migrant workers, young professionals, even commuters).
2.2 The Report reproduces a number of misconceptions
about the positive impacts of HMOs.
a) "An increased population in a particular area can increase
the range of goods and services" (2.3.3, p13). But if the population
increase is homogeneous (for instance, a particular age range),
this actually reduces and re-orients the range of goods & services.
b) "A critical mass of students generate more demand for public
transport and can ensure better transport links to benefit the wider
community" (2.3.3, pp13-14). In fact, car ownership is higher
in student houses than the national average.
c) "A student population constitutes a flexible part-time labour
force" (2.3.5, p14). But this labour force competes with local
young people. Casualisation undermines the indigenous workforce.
d) "Students also contribute to their local communities through
volunteering work" (2.3.5, p14). But volunteering is addressed
to a whole range of issues, and is unable to rectify the detrimental
impacts of studentification.
e) "There are positive impacts to be had from a high demand
for private rented accommodation particularly in areas where there
is an element of low demand" (2.3.5, pp14-15). There is little
evidence of this. In fact, concentrations of HMOs frequently develop
in areas of existing high demand.
2.3 The Report's suggested Option One (4.2.1) is
to 'do nothing', on the assumption that in various ways the market
will resolve the problems. But it would seem foolish in the extreme
to rely on the market to resolve a problem which was generated by
the market in the first place. Further, doing nothing runs the risk
of the same mistakes being repeated elsewhere.
2.4 The Report's suggested Option Two (4.2.2) is
to rely on non-planning mechanisms to tackle the problems. These
are summarised on pages 40-43, and also outlined in section 3.3
(pp22-35). These pages cover a wide range of local level initiatives
- but throughout, they are entirely descriptive; no attempt is made
to evaluate their effectiveness. In fact, it is generally the experience
of those in locations where they have been tried that they are very
costly in terms of human and material resources, and that they barely
scratch the surface of the problems. The Report itself gives the
reason for this: they address symptoms, not causes.
2.5 The Report's suggestion in 4.1.2 (p38) that
"there would likely be a time-lag between the changing of the
legislation and the adoption of the required planning policies to
support this" is contentious. It is supported by reference
to Northern Ireland, where local planning policies were not initiated
until after the local UCO was changed. But many local authorities
elsewhere already have the local planning policies in place, and
simply await amended legislation to make them effective (some of
these are outlined in 3.3.9, pp25-28, and also on pp42-3). In these
circumstances, the suggestion of yet more research into developments
in Northern Ireland (in 4.3, p46) is misguided - a weak experiment
is not a good model. This is simply an extenuation of a time-lag
which should be abbreviated as urgently as possible - not least,
to curtail market exploitation.
3 The National HMO Lobby however welcomes many
positive elements in the Report.
3.1 The Report comprehensively summarises the 'challenges'
(problems) posed by concentrations of HMOs, social, environmental,
economic, in section 2.3 (pp11-15). One thing missing is the sheer
demoralisation of the resident community in the face of the degradation
of their neighbourhood, and their powerlessness to do anything about
3.2 In section 3.1, the Report makes the crucial
distinction between causes and symptoms. "It was clearly evident
from the discussions that took place with local authorities, as
well as residents' groups and some universities that the different
mechanisms and initiatives, which had been put in place, were only
dealing with the symptoms associated with concentrations of HMO
properties and were not effective when it came to deal with the
factors which led to the high concentration of HMOs" (p19).
This distinction is of course essential in any attempt to address
the 'challenges' of HMO concentrations.
3.3 Accordingly, the Report recognises the limitations
of current approaches.
(a) Section 3.3.11 surveys numerous 'non-planning mechanisms', which
can only address symptoms. For instance, HMO licensing "was
intended to deal with standards rather than concentrations of HMOs,
which was the fundamental problem for most participants" (p29).
The HHSRS "focuses on property standards rather than concentrations
of HMOs" (p30). The Management of HMO Regulations 2006 "have
less relevance to controlling concentrations of HMOs" (p30).
Landlord accreditation schemes "are voluntary ... And again,
they are used to engage with private landlords on their practices
and property standards rather than address the issue of concentrations
of HMOs" (p31). Section 3.3.12 concerns stakeholder partnerships.
"This approach [Loughborough's Off-Campus Community Service
Delivery Strategy] is resource intensive and may limit the ability
of some organisations, particularly local authorities to take it
forward. In addition, the Strategy only deals with the practical
service implications of the presence of a large student population
in a relatively small town. It therefore does not address the more
structural issues relating to community cohesion and community imbalance"
(b) Even planning policies, which should address causes, are ineffective.
"The implementation of these restraint policies are undermined
by the limitations set out within the current Town and Country Planning
(Use Classes) Order 1987" (p18). "Without the suggested
changes to the national planning legislation discussed earlier,
the robustness of these policies might not withstand the test at
a planning appeal or inquiry" (3.4, p36). "It was argued
by many of those who were interviewed that although the mechanisms
outlined in this chapter can bring short and medium term solutions
to address the symptoms, they do not address the structural issues
around community cohesion and community imbalance, which can result
from a high concentration of certain social groups" (p36).
3.4 The Report acknowledges the need for change
to planning legislation. Section 2.1 indicates the ambiguities over
definitions of HMOs in housing and in planning legislation: "There
are different legal definitions of HMOs and what constitutes an
HMO. For example, the Housing Act 2004 defines an HMO as an entire
house, flat or converted building which is let to three or more
tenants who form two or more households, who share facilities such
as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet. Under planning legislation, there
is no clear definition of HMOs. Under the Town and Country Planning
(Use Classes) Order 1987, a dwelling house is defined under the
C3 use class as a house used by a single person, or any number of
persons living together as a family, or by no more than six people
living together as a single household. HMOs are unclassified and
are therefore "sui-generis" (of its own class)" (p10).
In practice, the Order has proved unenforceable. One of the 'key
findings' in 4.1.2 is that "the majority of stakeholders felt
that in order to deal with the causes and the wider structural issues
associated with HMOs, there was a need to change current planning
3.5 The Report's suggested Option Three (4.2.3,
p43) is to amend the UCO. This Option is warmly welcomed by the
Lobby. As the Report notes, "the majority of discussions that
we held with planning practitioners strongly felt that the initiatives
were only touching the surface, for example none of the planning
policy levers could address issues surrounding shared houses which
had less than six residents … Therefore in order to deal with
the causes and the issues associated with houses in multiple occupation
it was felt by many that there was no alternative but to amend the
current Use Classes Order by providing a definition of HMOs along
the same lines as the 2004 Housing Act. This would allow local planning
authorities to have more control over the location and concentration
of properties in multiple occupation." The Report notes both
the need to redefine HMOs in the UCO, and to amend the UCO "to
provide a distinct class for HMOs" (p43). The Report concludes
(4.3, p45) "it is our view that they [non-planning mechanisms]
have limited impact upon the longer-term issues surrounding houses
in multiple occupation, particularly where properties are classified
as a dwelling house under the C3 Use Classes Order but are occupied
by up to 6 people living together as a single household. For this
reason, it is suggested that Communities and Local Government undertake
wider consultation on proposed amendments to the current Town and
Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 and that consideration
be given to providing an amended and clearer definition of HMOs,
potentially along the same lines as that of the 2004 Housing Act."
4 The National HMO Lobby exhorts CLG to respond
speedily to this last recommendation by the Report. It may well
be the case that in some towns, in some circumstances, the market
has made some contribution to the resolution of the problems identified
by the Report (as suggested in 4.2.1). But this remains marginal.
Meanwhile, DIUS has proposed twenty new HE Centres (which may have
the same unintended consequences as elsewhere: the Lobby has responded
appropriately to the HEFCE consultation on the New
University Challenge). At the same time, many existing
HEIs are pursuing vigorous expansion plans, without accompanying
accommodation strategies. And even where student numbers are not
increasing, the student housing market remains perennially mobile
- internal migration means that though some neighbourhoods may be
'destudentified', shifts in demand bring studentification to new
neighbourhoods. For all these reasons, the National HMO Lobby urges
urgent action by CLG on the ECOTEC Report.
Dr Richard Tyler, National HMO Lobby, October 2008
National HMO Lobby