National HMO Lobby


National HMO

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Use Classes Order
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National HMO Lobby



Use Classes Order

Planning permission is required for material change of use of buildings and land. Categories of use are defined by national Use Class Orders. England & Wales are governed by the Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (HMOs belong to the same Use Class as family dwellings, Class C3). Scotland is governed by the Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997. And Northern Ireland comes under the Planning (Use Classes) Order (Northern Ireland) 2004.

A Review of the Use Classes Order in England was published in September 2001, and in January 2002, the Department of Transport, Local Government & the Regions issued a Consultation Paper inviting comments on proposals to change the Use Classes Order. Leeds HMO Lobby responded.

When the new Use Classes Order was adopted in Northern Ireland in November 2004, The National HMO Lobby wrote to the Planning Minister, Keith Hill, urging him to follow this lead [see below].

Again, on 20 December 2004, Alan Simpson MP (Nottingham South) asked the Minister to amend the Order, and Keith Hill replied on 21 February 2005. The National HMO Lobby responded to this reply on 3 March [see below].

However, the Ministry has persistently turned a deaf ear to campaigners' arguments, and a blind eye to the inadequacy of its own legislation. For in the mean time, on 21 January 2005, an amended Order was made, Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 84, The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Order 2005. This Order amends Use Class A3, but makes no change at all to Use Class C. Guidance is given in ODPM Circular 03/2005, Changes of Use of Buildings & Land.

On 21 April 2006, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP (City of Durham) held a Sustainable Communities Seminar in Durham. Following the Seminar, she agreed to raise the Use Classes Order with the Minister for Planning, Yvette Cooper MP. Members of the Lobby wrote to their MPs, urging them to support this initiative [see below].

Subsequent representations by the Lobby have pressed for reform of the Use Classes Order, including From Decent Homes to Sustainable Communities (September 2006) and The Supply of Rented Housing (October 2006).

In March 2007, the House of Commons Committee for Communities & Local Government, no less, stated: "We recommend that the Government examines whether local authorities need additional powers to address the problems arising in areas with especially large numbers of HMOs", clearly referring to the Use Classes Order as one option (House of Commons, Communities & Local Government Committee Coastal Towns (HC 351) 2007, paragraph 46).

On 28 March 2007, the National HMO Lobby and its members in Loughborough and Nottingham simultaneously 'mugged the Minister', lobbying Phil Woolas, Minister for Local Government and Community Cohesion, for amendment of the Order. Correspondence with the Department for Communities & Local Government followed. On 8 May, a delegation from Loughborough, led by Andy Reed MP, met the Minister for Local Government. Following this meeting, Alison Edwards (who has policy responsibility for the Order) wrote to the Lobby: "Following on from this meeting, officials and Ministers will have further discussions on the issue of HMOs and 'studentification', including the role that the UCO can play, and I will feed the information and views you and others have provided into those discussions" (email, 8 May 2007).

Then, in the autumn of 2007, Simon Llewellyn, Head of Private Renting and Leasehold at Communities and Local Government, wrote "we fully recognise the difficulties that can arise with large concentrations of dwellings with group occupation and recognise that there may be a case for amending the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended). We therefore propose to consult next year on proposals to amend the Use Classes Order in relation to HMOs." In a written answer in the Commons on 15 January 2008, Planning Minister Iain Wright reiterated this commitment: "We propose to consult on possible amendments to the Use Classes Order in relation to HMOs later in the year."

On 9 April 2008, "a new review aimed at improving the management and conditions of people living in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) was launched by Housing and Planning Minister Caroline Flint." The Review was in fact the subject of the HMOs Seminar attended by the National HMO Lobby at CLG on the same day, 9 April. This Seminar was the final phase of the preliminaries to the HMO Review and to the consultation on the Use Classes Order. A Report by the consultancy ECOTEC was published by CLG on 26 September, titled Evidence Gathering - Housing in Multiple Occupation and possible planning responses; the report attracted media attention, in the Guardian, on Radio 2 and in the Mail on Sunday. The National HMO Lobby responded the following month.

On 13 May 2009, CLG published its consultation paper Houses in multiple occupation and possible planning responses: Consultation. The National HMO Lobby launched its response process the following day. The first phase consisted of preparing to respond, including a number of Campaign Bulletins, raising questions about the consultation proposals. The second phase decided on the Lobby's response to the consultation, at a National HMO Seminar held in Birmingham on 12 June. Subsequently, the Lobby moved into phase three, submitting responses to CLG. A delegation to CLG presented the Lobby's Response to the CLG Consultation on Houses in Multiple Occupation and possible planning responses on 30 July. Change to the Use Classes Order was supported by most of the Core Cities and by the Planning Officers Society, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the British Resorts And Destinations Association, the Coastal Communities Alliance and the National HMO Network, among others. Upon the close of the Consultation, media coverage followed, including reports on The Sunday Times, The Times and Channel Four's News at Noon; later reports appeared in Planning, The Guardian and The Observer.

On 27 January 2010, on a visit to Oxford East, Minister for Housing & Planning John Healey MP announced the government's intentions in the light of the HMO consultation - namely, to agree to all three recommendations by the National HMO Lobby. These were (a) a new planning definition of HMO, based on that in the Housing Act 2004, (b) removal of HMOs from Class C3 in the Use Classes Order to a new Use Class C4, and (c) amendment of the General Permitted Development Order to permit return of HMOs to Class C3 without planning permission. The Minister's announcement included other proposals also, on licensing and on a National Register of Landlords. The Minister presented a Written Ministerial Statement to the House of Commons. On the same day, a Summary of Responses to the consultation was published (this showed over 90% support for the Minister's decisions).

The two Orders were made on 8 March, Statutory Instrument 2010 No. 653 The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Order 2010 and Statutory Instrument 2010 No. 654 The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2010. On 31 March, Communities & Local Government published Circular 05/10: Changes to Planning Regulations for Dwelling Houses and Houses in Multiple Occupation, as guidance.

Meanwhile, on 18 March, CLG published Introducing a definition of houses in multiple occupation into the Use Classes Order: Impact assessment, which endorses the Lobby's arguments for HMO legislation. A week later, CLG also published Strategy for seaside success: Securing the future of seaside economies (25 March 2010), which drew attention to the value of the amended UCO to seaside towns (p20).

However, David Cameron MP, Leader of the Opposition, and a number of Shadow Ministers, tabled an Early Day Motion (no 1200) on 29 March, on TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING (S.I., 2010, No. 653), which called for the revocation of the Statutory Instrument. The Co-ordinator of the Lobby and the Chair of NORA wrote jointly to the signatories, expressing surprise and disappointment at this move. Many other members of the Lobby also wrote. Grant Shapps MP, Shadow Housing Minister, replied, and Co-ordinator and Chair replied jointly again, criticising the justification by the Conservative Party of their action. On 21 April, the Co-ordinator met Grant Shapps in Headingley - who agreed to revise the Conservative response. On 26 April, this revision was adopted, stating, "We will ensure that there is no gap between Labour's new legislation (active from April 2010) and any equivalent legislation introduced by a Conservative government. We will consult again on any changes proposed by a Conservative government."

The new measures came into force on 6 April.

Following the General Election of 6 May, Grant Shapps MP became Minister for Housing. On 10 June in the House of Commons, he said, "we do not plan to overturn the rules [on HMOs] that the previous Government introduced" (see Hansard). But only a week later, 17 June, the Minister published a Written Ministerial Statement: in itself, this seems innocuous, but the accompanying Press Notice reveals that the intent is in fact to revert to Option 3 of the consultation in 2009 - which was opposed by 99% of respondents (it proposes the use of Article 4 Directions for local authorities to opt in to HMO legislation). In response to a brief consultation by invitation (which concluded on 9 July), the National HMO Lobby submitted a Response, which was widely supported by local authorities (including the Core Cities), by MPs, by councillors, by NORA and by planning professionals (POS, RTPI).

On 7 September, the Minister announced that he was doing what he said he was going to do all along, and laid before Parliament two Statutory Instruments, 2134 and 2135, respectively amending the GPDO (making conversion of a house to HMO permitted development) and the Compensation Regulations (relating to Article 4 Directions). SIs 2134 and 2135 came into force on 1 October. And on 4 November 2010, CLG published Circular 08/10: Changes to Planning Regulations for Dwellinghouses and Houses in Multiple Occupation, and Replacement Appendix D to Department of the Environment Circular 09/95: General Development Consolidation Order 1995, clarifying the new legislation.

Meanwhile, two rearguard actions were under way. On 14 September, Harriet Harman MP, Leader of the Opposition, and a number of Shadow Ministers, tabled two Early Day Motions (nos 729 and 730) calling for the SIs to be annulled. This led to a consideration of the SIs in the Delegated Legislation Committee on 16 November; both were endorsed. This in turn was followed by a debate in Westminster Hall on 18 November, and a meeting between members of the APPG for Sustainable Communities and the Housing Minister on 23 November - neither to any avail. In addition, members of the Lobby from Bournemouth and Southampton met CLG officers on 30 November.

And on 23 September, Milton Keynes Council applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the new legislation. On 29 September, the Court asked the government to submit its defence against the application. However, on 15 October, the Court refused the application. On 22 October, Milton Keynes renewed its application, and was granted an Oral Hearing on this application. On 20 January 2011, permission was granted, and the Review began at the High Court on 30 March; it ran on to the following day. But the judgement on 11 April decided against Milton Keynes.

Subsequently, the government has published a number of consultation papers, which in various ways have a bearing on the Use Class Order. In November 2010, CLG published a consultation on Proposals for changes to planning application fees in England; the Lobby responded, arguing that planning applications required by Article 4 Directions should attract fees, like any other application. [The results of the consultation were finally published on 3 August 2012: despite support for devolving fee-levels to local authorities and for extending the range of fees, the government resolved to make no changes, except to increase existing fees nationally by 15%]. In June 2011, CLG published an Issues Paper on How change of use is handled in the planning system; the Lobby responded, in the light of its experience of the Use Class Order. Then in July, CLG published the Draft National Planning Policy Framework, which will replace the various existing Planning Policy Statements; again, the Lobby has responded. The Framework came into effect on 27 March 2012.

On 10 May 2012, Unipol held a Seminar in London on Students and Planning. Ostensibly, "the day will review and discuss the progress of planning restrictions on houses of multiple occupation being carried out under "Article 4" powers taken by some 40 local authorities - mainly in areas of higher education with most aimed specifically at students." In fact, speakers represented only the views of students and landlords.

The issues paper on the Use Classes Order of 2011 was followed up by a consultation launched on 3 July 2012, titled New opportunities for sustainable development and growth through the reuse of existing buildings; but this has no bearing on HMOs.

On 19 October 2012, the House of Commons Select Committee for Communities & Local Government launched an Inquiry into The Private Rented Sector. The National HMO Lobby submitted evidence, accepted by the Inquiry in Januery 2013, and on 13 May, the Lobby was invited to an oral evidence session in Leeds. The Committee's Report was published on 18 July: its recommendations included review of mandatory HMO licensing, support for Article 4 Directions, and the view that "Universities have a responsibility to ensure that student housing does not have a detrimental impact upon local communities." The Government's response was published on 16 October: it agreed that, "Councils will continue to have the option to use Article 4 directions where there are concerns from the local community about high concentrations of houses of multiple occupation," and that, "It is widely acknowledged that high concentrations of students living in local communities have, on occasion, given rise to tensions in those communities. This tension can also translate to pressure on affordable housing in areas close to universities."

On 13 October 2014, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector published a Report on Access to Private Rented Housing for the Under 35s which endorsed the use of Article 4 Directions.

On 15 April 2015, a new General Permitted Development Order (SI 2015 596) came into force, which collated all the amendments to the original GPDO of 1995 (revoking this Order), including permitted development for change of use from Use Class C3 to Use Class C4.

Below may be found -
Planning (Use Classes) Order (Northern Ireland) 2004, representation to Minister Keith Hill, 29 Nov 2004
Use Classes Order, representation to Minister Keith Hill, 3 March 2005
Parliamentary HMO Lobby, representations to MPs, April 2006
Houses in Multiple Occupation, representation to Minister Phil Woolas, 28 March 2007
HMO Review, representation to Minister Caroline Flint, 10 April 2008
Representation on HMO & UCO, presented to Communities & Local Government, 17 October 2008

From: National HMO Lobby
Date: 29 November 2004

Dear Minister

You will be well aware that today the Planning (Use Classes) Order (Northern Ireland) 2004 comes into effect. I am writing on behalf of the National HMO Lobby to ask that in the light of this development in one part of the UK, you re-visit the Use Classes Order as it applies in England & Wales.

Members of the Lobby contributed to the consultation on the UCO back in 2002. And at the beginning of this year, the Lobby contributed to the consultation in Northern Ireland on their review of their UCO. The key argument that we offered then was that the usage of HMOs was entirely distinct from usage as a single household, and also from usage as hotel/hostel/care home/guest house/etc, in several ways, as follows -

# Occupancy in HMOs is high density, much higher than family houses, and generally higher than homes/hostels/hotels; this intensifies pressure on local services.
# Occupants are from a narrow age range (young adults), unlike the wide age range normal in family houses and homes/hostels/hotels; their lifestyle generates high levels of noise, traffic and waste.
# Occupiers within HMOs lack government (this is the implication of multiple households), whereas houses and homes/hostels/hotels have a family or management structure; this can make general behaviour and relations with tenants difficult.
# Occupation is short-term (especially in the case of students of course), while families are long-term residents and homes/hostels/hotels have long-term managers; this leads to a very different level of commitment to the property and the neighbourhood.

Collectively, these four features make HMOs a quite distinctive land-use, with a very distinctive impact in the locality.

This argument (along with many others, I'm sure) was successful in Northern Ireland, and now the new NI UCO requires planning permission for change of use to HMO (in fact, HMOs are entirely detached from Class C, Residential Uses). At the same time, the Order adopts a definition of HMO as "a house occupied by more than two qualifying persons, being persons who are not all members of the same family" (which is essentially the same as that adopted in our new Housing Act).

Accordingly, in the light of the new UCO regime in Northern Ireland, and also in the light of the new definition of HMO in England & Wales, the National HMO Lobby urges a similar revision of the Use Classes Order in this country.

This is certainly a measure we shall be recommending to the Student Housing Project which you have just established (and this has become all the more urgent in the light of the unfortunate Belfast incident last week, and the need for new planning legislation was forcefully presented in the two programmes on BBC Radio 5 yesterday).

Best wishes, Dr Richard Tyler, National Co-ordinator, National HMO Lobby


From: National HMO Lobby
Date: 3 March 2005

Dear Mr Hill, you may remember that a year ago (12 Feb 04) you met a delegation from Nottingham and the National HMO Lobby. One of the topics we discussed was amendment of the Use Classes Order to enable local authorities to tackle the problems caused for sustainable communities by concentrations of HMOs. Alan Simpson (who arranged the meeting) has forwarded to me your reply (21 Feb 05) to his letter about the UCO (20 Dec 04). It seems to the Lobby that your letter does not really address the issues.

After the formalities, para 1 points out that 'material change of use' depends on 'degree, facts, circumstances' - that is, there are no clear criteria. The notorious Barnes/Sheffield case in 1995 threw the definition of HMO in the air. What we have learned to our cost is that we are dependent, not on objective criteria, but on the whim of Planning Inspectors - some of whom accept the spirit of what counts as HMO, some follow the absolute letter of what law there is.

For contrary to para 2, the great majority of HMOs do not 'generally remain outside the scope of the order', and therefore need planning permission. If the definition of HMO provided by the new Housing Act is anything to go by, the great majority are un-touched by the Order.

As para 3 says, the 'essential element' in determining a HMO is the criterion of 'single household' - but this is not defined by the Order. Indeed, in the accompanying Explanatory Note, single household is contrasted with family, whereas they are identified in the Housing Act.

Para 4 notes that in Northern Ireland [Planning (Use Classes) Order (NI) 2004] 'dwellinghouse' includes family homes and care homes (with not more than six residents). It does not include 'people living together as a single household'. Section 3(4)f specifically excludes HMOs.

Para 5 is incorrect. The definition of HMO used in the Order is actually that in Article 143(1) of the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (which amended the 1992 Order).

Accordingly, the final paragraph is incorrect. Single household and family are not 'common' to the Orders in England and NI. Both use these terms - but they mean something different. In NI, family is the defining criterion for dwellinghouse; if the occupants do not belong to the same family, then it is a HMO. (One exception is allowed - a single household where care is provided.) In England, this is not the case: a dwellinghouse can accommodate both a family and a single household which is not a family, and this can include what is quite clearly defined as a HMO by the Housing Act (and by common-sense). It is therefore nonsense to say that there would be no 'practical benefits' if the English UCO was changed. A change would require all HMOs as defined by the Housing Act (and by the NI Order) to seek planning permission, which currently they do not.

If anything is 'largely academic' (in your letter's words) it is the arguments in the letter - in the experience of the Lobby, the points made are out of touch with the reality of the legislation.

Yours sincerely, Richard Tyler, Co-ordinator, National HMO Lobby


Parliamentary HMO Lobby
From: Leeds HMO Lobby [and other members of the National HMO Lobby to their MPs]
Date: 23 April 2006

Dear Greg & John & Hilary

Last week, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP (City of Durham) organised a Sustainable Communities Seminar - specifically to address the damage to sustainability caused by studentification in Durham. Community and council delegates at the Seminar emphasised to her that current planning legislation undermined local authority efforts to control the concentrations of HMOs which lead to studentification.

Roberta agreed to lobby the government to revisit the Use Classes Order (only recently amended) in order (a) to redefine HMO (in line with the Housing Act 2004) and (b) to require permission for change of use to HMO (in line with the UCO in Northern Ireland). On behalf of Leeds HMO Lobby, may I urge you all to offer her your support.

As you may also know, Grant Shapps MP (Welwyn Hatfield) has also recently raised the vexed issue of student HMOs and Council Tax - he calculates that residents pay an extra £80m in Council Tax, due to shortfall in government reimbursement of local authorities for student HMO exemptions.

These issues demonstrate a clear need for an effective cross-party Parliamentary lobby on HMOs, to address the impacts of concentrations of HMOs - which affect so many constituencies. May we urge you and Roberta and other concerned MPs to urgently form such a lobby group?

Best wishes, Richard Tyler (Leeds HMO Lobby)


Houses in Multiple Occupation
From: National HMO Lobby
Date: 28 March 2007

Dear Minister

I write to you on behalf of the National HMO Lobby, which as you may know represents more than fifty community groups in some thirty towns throughout the UK, all of whom are concerned about the impact on their communities of concentrations of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). In particular, I write in support of our member group in Loughborough, the Storer & Ashby Area Residents Group, who are writing to you about Charnwood Borough Council’s SPD on Student Housing.

The Council’s SPD has failed in its attempt to manage concentrations of shared student houses, or HMOs. A key problem in this planning policy, as well as all others in England & Wales (and also Scotland), is the fact that there are no effective powers to grant or refuse planning permission for HMOs. This means that HMOs are able to proliferate, regardless of the impact they have on the sustainability of the communities where they multiply un-checked.

The Lobby and its members have pressed your Department and its predecessors over many years now for effective changes in planning legislation. Always we are fobbed off with answers which misunderstand or misrepresent what we want. The Lobby would appreciate a considered and informed response to what we actually seek. This can be simply stated.

First of all, we request a revised definition of HMO in planning law. On the one hand, the present definition (such as it is) is not fit for purpose – for instance, it relies on the concept of ‘single household’ which itself is nowhere defined. On the other hand, there is a broad consensus in housing legislation throughout the UK on a far more precise definition of HMO. The latest instance was provided by the Housing Act 2004, which dealt simply and clearly with all the problems which are usually raised. It remains entirely incongruous that the notion of HMO is different in housing and planning legislation.

Secondly, we request that the Use Classes Order is amended, so that HMOs are distinguished from dwelling houses, and thus conversion from one to the other constitutes change-of-use, and therefore requires planning permission. Anyone with experience of HMOs knows full well that their usage is quite distinct from all three uses identified in Class C of the Order. Unlike hotels or care homes (or family houses), HMOs are intensively occupied, their occupiers are typically & narrowly young adults only, their occupants have no internal management structure, and their occupancy is short-term.

The cumulative impacts of concentrations of HMOs is now widely documented, they have exercised the officers of many Local Planning Authorities, and action has been called for, not only by ourselves, but also by councillors, local authorities, Members of Parliament, even University Vice-Chancellors.

Local authorities need powers to be able to limit concentrations. These are now arising in numerous contexts – most severely in university towns, for many years now in costal towns, more recently in towns accommodating rural workers. Indeed, your Department’s own House of Commons Committee, in its Second Report this month on Coastal Towns has said “We recommend that the Government examines whether local authorities need additional powers to address the problems arising in areas with especially large numbers of HMOs” (para 46).

We fail to understand why the Department is reluctant to act, when the changes we seek have already been implemented in Northern Ireland, where the housing definition of HMO is explicitly adopted, and where HMOs have been classed sui generis in the local Use Classes Order.

We fail even more to understand why a Government which is commendably committed to the promotion of sustainable communities is unable to provide local authorities with the powers they need to sustain their communities.

We should very much appreciate consideration of our requests, and action upon them.

Yours sincerely, (Dr) Richard Tyler, Co-ordinator, National HMO Lobby

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HMO Review
From: National HMO Lobby
To: Caroline Flint, Minister for Housing
Date: 10 April 2008

Dear Minister

The National HMO Lobby was very pleased to read yesterday of the new Review of HMOs that you have launched. The problems associated with HMOs, especially in concentration, have been the subject of the Lobby's campaigns for the best part of a decade (please see our website). May I raise a couple of points about the Review, which I put to the successful HMOs Seminar arranged by your officers yesterday.

First of all, you say quite rightly "It is not acceptable that in too many areas people living in HMOs and local communities alike are having their quality of life affected. We must have balanced, sustainable communities where settled communities can live side by side with those in HMOs." The News Release notes that "Concerns have been raised about the so called 'studentification' of university towns with over concentrations of HMOs ... An over concentration of houses of multiple occupation in one area can have a negative impact on the neighbourhood and local public services." This is certainly the case. But it is by no means the only, nor even the most important, consequence of student HMOs. Everyone is very well aware of the current acute housing shortage - student HMOs in fact exacerbate this shortage. The HMOs they occupy are parasitic upon the basic housing stock, being always conversions of existing stock - such conversions turn what should be first homes for families into seasonal second homes for students (the issue is very similar to second homes and holiday lets in rural areas).

Secondly, although students represent the largest market for HMOs, and the principle driver of over concentrations, it is in fact incidental that the occupants are students. All concentrations of HMOs cause similar (not identical) problems - especially because their occupants are nearly always transient. Concentrations also arise in coastal towns (as noted in the CLG Commons Committee's report) and in market towns (with migrant workers). Blackpool for instance is among the top half-dozen towns for HMO Licensing. So this is a phenomenon much wider than simply 'studentification'.

The National HMO Lobby looks forward to the progress of the HMO Review, and to continuing to contribute to its development.

Best wishes, Dr Richard Tyler, National HMO Lobby

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