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Submitting HMO licence applications via the gov.uk website

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - By Richard Tacagni, Managing Director at London Property Licensing

Richard Tacagni, Managing Director, London Property Licensing

Whilst many councils have developed their own HMO licence application process, some councils signpost landlords to the online application process on the gov.uk website. In some areas, it is the only way you can apply for an HMO licence. 

Late last year, I was instructed to prepare an HMO licence application for a landlord operating in a small district council in the south of England. With all their licence applications channelled through gov.uk, it gave me the perfect opportunity to test out the system and I can now share my feedback.

You start the process by visiting the gov.uk website (here) and entering the postcode of the property to be licensed. At this initial stage, two things can happen:

  • You get a message saying "You can’t apply for this licence online. Contact your local council". If so, bad luck, the system won’t work in your area; or
  • You are taken to the licensing overview page for your local authority.

Unfortunately, the description on the licensing overview page is not entirely correct. It explains you need a licence in England or Wales for a ‘large HMO’ which is occupied by five of more people. It does not mention the rules are different in Wales where the ‘three or more storey’ criteria still applies.

You then proceed to the ‘How to Apply’ page. At this point, you need to tread carefully as I found the information is not always correct. For example, whilst not linked to the application I was preparing, I noticed for the London Borough of Croydon it says HMO licences are needed for all HMOs occupied by three or more people (as of 22/01/2020). However, this is wrong. In Croydon, additional licensing of all HMOs ended in August 2015 and was replaced by a selective licensing scheme.

Ok, so you have reached this far, confirmed you need a HMO licence and decided to apply. You click the ‘Apply online’ button and one of two things happen:

  • You get a message saying "Unfortunately, this licence is currently not available online" and are signposted to your local council. If so, bad luck, the system won’t work in your area: or
  • You are invited to download a 20-page editable PDF form that can be saved on your computer and completed at your leisure.

The questions on the application form are fairly standard although there are a few oddities. For example, you must insert a date of birth for the proposed licence holder even if the legal entity is a limited company. Perhaps the date of incorporation is the nearest equivalent. Helpfully, there’s a free text box to enter additional information.

Once you have completed the form, you return to gov.uk to submit your application. Scroll down the ‘How to Apply’ page and you’ll find a ‘Submit application’ button.

To submit your application, you must enter your email address, upload the completed form and supporting documents. I was surprised to find the list of supporting documents varies depending on which council you select.

For this particular council, the system required me to upload a fire risk assessment, a fit and proper person assessment and the floorplan, but no gas or electrical certificates.

As you may know, fire risk assessments are only mandatory for certain HMOs, but you must still upload a document.

Uploading a fit and proper person assessment form was challenging as there was no such form; the fit and proper assessment was contained within the main application form. Using my initiative, I uploaded an extra copy of the application form to overcome this hurdle!

Once all documents are uploaded, you continue to a payment screen (credit or debit cards accepted) and after making payment, you receive an email confirming your application has been submitted.

Does tacit consent apply to HMO licensing

On receiving the automated gov.uk response, I was surprised to read the email which stated: “Assuming the form and supporting documents, where applicable, are valid they’ll contact you with a decision within [five weeks]. If you haven’t had a decision by this date you can assume it’s been approved as tacit consent applies”.

I found this surprising as from my experience, most councils say tacit consent does not apply to HMO licensing. I also know of very few HMO licence applications that get approved within five weeks.

If tacit consent does apply to HMO licensing, it raises further questions. For example, is it assumed to be a five-year licence, is there an occupancy limit and what about mandatory licence conditions? And what happens if the council start to process a licence application after it is deemed to have been approved through the tacit consent route? Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers. The issue of tacit consent certainly adds to the confusion and so I will invite a solicitor or barrister to share their thoughts on this topic in a future guest blog.   

As it turned out, the HMO licence application I submitted wasn’t approved within five weeks. It remains unclear if the government advice is correct and it is deemed to have been approved.

With potentially thousands of landlords using the gov.uk online application system, it seems there are a few issues to be ironed out. My observations have been fed back to civil servants in the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government so they can consider the issues raised. 

The author of this blog, Richard Tacagni MCIEH CEnvH, is Managing Director of London Property Licensing. You can contact him at Richard@londonpropertylicensing.co.uk.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of London Property Licensing. These blogs are designed to stimulate discussion and debate within the property industry. This article does not represent legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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