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CVoS signs joint letter calling on the British Government not to trash vital housing protections

Calderdale Valley of Sanctuary, alongside 142 other organisations, signed a joint letter co-authored by RAMFEL, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, calling on the British government not to trash vital housing protections.

The government is trying to push through plans that would remove legal protections for asylum accommodation, opening the door for landlords to provide unsafe, overcrowded and even less sanitary housing for people who have already been forced to flee their homes. This is unequivocally wrong, and we are calling on the government to abandon these plans and recognise that everyone deserves safe and decent housing.

Read the letter below. 

24th May 2023
Dear Secretaries of State
People seeking sanctuary excluded from vital housing safety regulation
We are writing to express our organisations’ extreme concern about the regulations being considered by Parliament that would remove the licensing requirements for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) used as asylum accommodation.
We are aware that the Home Office promises to repeat the requirements that normally apply in licensing via its contracts with accommodation suppliers; however, experience with enforcement of conditions in existing contracts indicates that this is very unlikely to be sufficient or comprehensive given the scale of accommodation required.
We are particularly concerned that the potential combination of overcrowding, sharing of facilities such as kitchens and potentially lax enforcement of gas and electrical safety standards poses a severe fire risk (these factors appeared to be behind the recent tragic fire in Tower Hamlets). Given that much of the accommodation is likely to be in flats or in terraced housing, the risk applies both to the property itself and to neighbouring homes. The risk is, of course, enhanced by the very real possibility of arson attacks.
As well as safety issues, the potential for increased use of substandard buildings could affect the health and wellbeing of people seeking sanctuary, for example by removing the standards that apply to the kitchen and bathroom facilities required in relation to numbers of occupants. Limited or no controls over room-sharing may well lead to conflicts between occupants, and to safeguarding dangers. Occupants could be condemned to near cell-like conditions in rooms which (for example) could have no windows.
We are also concerned that people seeking sanctuary will potentially be placed into overcrowded rooms in overcrowded housing in neighbourhoods with existing high concentrations of hostel-type accommodation, with potential ramifications for community inclusivity and the safety of people seeking sanctuary.
Existing landlords and temporary accommodation providers will be incentivised to switch their properties away from their existing uses to asylum accommodation, which may be more profitable. This could include properties which may not have met HMO standards previously. As well as leading to an increase in substandard properties, this could exacerbate local housing and
homelessness pressures, with the potential for people seeking sanctuary to be blamed for causing them.
As contracts for asylum will be managed by the Home Office, councils will be much less likely to directly redress poor standards or safety issues. As a result, enforcement action may not take place or could be much slower than under current local HMO licensing arrangements. Councils will no longer receive HMO licensing fees from properties used for asylum accommodation, drastically reducing the funds available for enforcement work.
It is worth noting two important elements of HMO licensing:
1. The reason for licensing is that, over decades, HMOs have been shown to be the properties posing greatest risk to health and safety – especially death from fire. As a bare minimum, if the plans go ahead, additional fire safety requirements (over and above those for non-multi-occupied dwellings) should be on the face of the instrument to show explicitly how fire risk will be minimised.
2. Licensing under Part 2 powers is pre-disclosure: councils know where these properties are before they are let, so they can be checked for safety before any incident occurs. Part 1 powers (which local authorities can still use) are only effective if they know where HMOs are; they are dependent on complaints which may not be made (especially given that the occupants are people recently arrived in the UK, who are likely less equipped to navigate local authority complaints systems).
We appreciate the need to resolve accommodation issues resulting from the backlog of asylum claims. However, we do not believe that removing HMO licensing controls is the way to proceed. In summary, our concerns are at two levels. One is the danger of failing to liaise with local authorities and the removal of local controls in situations rife with potential problems for community relations. The second, and even more important, is the potential effect on the safety and wellbeing of people seeking sanctuary. The relaxation of standards contrasts sharply with the government’s efforts to enhance building safety more generally and to tackle poor conditions in the private rented sector, which we strongly support.
We note that the strain on the asylum accommodation system is partly the result of most people seeking asylum being banned from working, as well as excessive delays in asylum decision-making. The Home Office should address these problems rather than deny people seeking sanctuary the basic accommodation rights that should be afforded to all tenants.
We therefore urge you to abandon the planned removal of HMO licensing requirements, and instead to redouble efforts to ensure that asylum accommodation is safe, healthy and secure.
Your sincerely,
Gavin Smart
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Housing

View the full letter, including the list of signatories in its entirety, on RAMFEL’s website.