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Graham Awards


Shock figures show councils unable to enforce HMO regulations

Shock figures released by an insurance company suggest that councils are woefully unable to police new regulations regarding mandatory HMO licensing.

Figures obtained by Simple Landlords Insurance reveal the majority of local authorities don’t know how many unlicensed HMOs are in their area - let alone where they are - leaving them ill-equipped to seek those who break the rules or take advantage of new enforcement powers. 

The findings reveal that the rules are “practically unenforceable”, according to one HMO licensing expert, with the government’s recent commitment of £2m of additional funding to help implement the scheme unlikely to have any real impact.  


The freedom of information requests returned by 90 local authorities reveal:

- 65 out of 90 local authorities have no idea how many landlords are breaking HMO licensing rules;

- 29 out of 90 have no idea how many properties should come in under the new regulatory scheme;

- 31 out of 90 did not prosecute any landlords for infractions of existing rules in the last two years;

- there were only 103 HMO licences rejected at application over the last 12 months, versus a total of 18,881 licenses granted.

To gain a license, landlords must now pass a ‘fit and proper’ test as well as providing proof of compliance with fire safety regulations and provide tenants with a written statement of the terms of their occupancy. The rules were widened on October 1, removing a minimum three storeys high requirement whilst new conditions on minimum room size and waste collection were imposed. 

Simple Landlords Insurance says councils’ inability to apply the new legislation is due to a combination of poor intelligence about housing stock and stretched resources. 

Carl Agar, founder of The Home Safe Scheme and managing director of property management company Big Red House, says: “The government is essentially relying on honest landlords coming forward to apply for a licence - leaving the so-called rogue or down-right criminal landlords that really need to be identified - out of scope. The £2m promised support is literally a drop in the ocean.” 

In examples quoted in the Simple Landlords research, Liverpool city council had 1,195 HMOs with a mandatory license before October 1 and expects that 5,000 will require licensing. Birmingham expects numbers to swell from 1,853 to 4,000 and Southampton expects the numbers will increase from 551 to 2,500.

Many London boroughs had no idea at all how many additional HMOs would come under scope, whilst those that did are expecting a huge jump – in Greenwich from 147 to 3,250 HMOs under scope. 

Agar adds: “Many local authorities are now faced with at least twice as many licences to process and check with the same amount of human resource - leaving even less time for enforcement. The major conurbations will be swamped.” 

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    Councils and their dreams about controlling property need putting back in their magic box. The basic scheme is something similar to property control in the USSR or Mao's China - without the firing squads. I have seen both systems at work first hand and the similarities are stark.

    It all sounds wonderful and progressive but the reality is unpleasant, expensive and divisive to good landlords. Once the good landlords drop by the wayside the resulting social and local financial problems will be horrendous.


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