Government U-turn on HMO licensing exemption for properties housing asylum seekers

Wednesday, February 14th, 2024 - Duncan Lewis Solicitors

In a significant development, the government have withdrawn draft regulations that would have exempted properties occupied by asylum seekers from the House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing regime.

A Judicial Review challenging the lawfulness of the draft Houses in Multiple Occupation (Asylum-Seeker) Accommodation (England) Regulations 2023 was due to take place at High Court in London on 7 and 8 February 2024. 

In March 2023, draft Regulations had been laid before Parliament to exempt certain accommodation for asylum seekers from local authority HMO licensing schemes. The draft Regulations would have removed any requirement for landlords to license the accommodation, comply with HMO licence conditions, and comply with maximum occupancy limits when properties were occupied by asylum seekers and their families. 

The Claimants, eight asylum seekers represented by Duncan Lewis solicitors, argued that the Secretaries of State for the Home and Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Departments had acted unlawfully. Their case was that the government had no power to make the draft Regulations because, among other reasons, they frustrated the purpose of HMO licensing in the Housing Act 2004, were irrational and unlawfully discriminatory. The Claimants also asserted that the processes of inquiry followed by Secretaries of State had fallen far short of what was legally required, particularly in light of the grave anticipated consequences of the draft Regulations.

U-turn announced on eve of Judicial Review

In the afternoon of 6 February 2024, in the last working hour before the hearing was due to start, the High Court and the Claimants were informed that the Government had decided to withdraw the draft Regulations. 

We understand Mrs Justice Lang has ordered the government must pay the Claimants’ legal costs due to the last minute nature of the concession which was made without justification or explanation. Significant costs had been incurred which was disappointing in light of all parties being publicly funded.

Jeremy Bloom, lead solicitor on the Claimants’ legal team Duncan Lewis said:

The Claimants have achieved something amazing today: the Government’s last-minute withdrawal of Regulations that would have reduced protections for asylum-seekers housed by the Home Office is a spectacular U-Turn. The Claimants now have the enduring protection that they will not be placed in accommodation which does not meet licensing standards, which are so vital to fire-safety and to prevent overcrowding.

This is yet another example of the government conceding at the last minute, wasting the Court’s precious time and tax payer’s money in defending a wholly indefensible claim. Crucially during a lengthy period of defending the claim, our clients and thousands of vulnerable people have been living in fear of being moved into unacceptable, unlicensed accommodation. The conduct during this litigation on the part of government has been shambolic. Questions should be asked as to why it didn’t withdraw the Regulations months ago

It is especially troubling that the two Secretaries of State have taken this approach in circumstances where the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities expressed to the Prime Minister, as early as November 2022, that he was strongly opposed to removing the licencing requirements for asylum accommodation.

Louise Hosking, Executive Director of Environmental Health at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said:

We warmly welcome the Government’s U-turn on this issue. 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.

We are immensely proud to have supported the legal challenge to these draft regulations on behalf of our members and to have played an important part in bringing about a successful outcome.

Duncan Lewis Solicitors have expressed thanks to all the individuals and organisations that supported the claim. London Property Licensing was one of the organisations that provided detailed witness testimony on the adverse consequences of the draft Regulations. Others included the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, London Borough of Newham, London Borough of Lewisham, NACCOM, Shelter, JCWI, RAMFEL, and individual specialists in the field.

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