Joint letter to Ministers - People seeking sanctuary should not be excluded from vital housing safety regulation

Law for Life are proud to be part of a collective initiative, together with the Chartered Institute of Housing, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)  and Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL), to oppose Government plans to remove the licensing requirements for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) used as asylum accommodation. The proposed changes could seriously affect the health and wellbeing of people seeking sanctuary, for example by removing requirements to produce gas or electricity safety certificates, meet basic sanitation standards, have a working fire or monoxide alarms, or meet the minimum size standards.

Law for Life believe this is a highly dangerous move that could leave those seeking sanctuary in dangerous and unsanitary accommodation, with potential ramifications for community cohesion.  

Due to our public legal education programmes on housing rights, Law for Life was well placed to help bring together a coalition of charities supporting refugees, social justice funders, legal / advice centres, and grassroots community groups to amplify the voices of those who oppose the move. We are delighted that 142 organiations signed the letter.

The full wording of the letter, which has been sent to Suella Braverman and Michael Gove on May 24th 2023 is below. 

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, 
Dr C Wooff, Joint leader, ACAP (Ashton Churches Asylum Project)
Duncan McAuley, CEO, Action Foundation
Rosie Boyd, Refugee Integration Officer, African Rainbow Family
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director, Amnesty
International UK
Giles Peaker, Partner, Anthony Gold Solicitors LLP
Anna Rudd, Interim Director, ASSIST Sheffield
Ewan Roberts, CEO, Asylum Link Merseyside
Mabli Jones, Deputy Director, Asylum Matters
Kat Lorenz, Director, Asylum Support Appeals Project
Mark Goldring, Director, Asylum Welcome
Nadia Hussain, Liaison Worker, Aylesbury Women's Aid
Pierre Makhlouf, Legal Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees
Emma Hawthorne, Chair, BIRCH (Birmingham Community Hosting)
David Brown, Chair, Birmingham City of Sanctuary
Mandy Ross, Refugee Support Group member, Birmingham Progressive Synagogue
Barbara Forbes, Local lead Birmingham, Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary
Dr. Wanda Wyporska, CEO, Black Equity Organisation
Ros Holland, Chief Exec, Boaz Trust
David Thomas, Legal Officer, Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition
Laura Chester, Host Network Manager, Bristol Hospitality Network
Hana Cogingsford, Solicitor, Bristol Law Centre
Qerim Nuredini, Chief Executive Officer, Bristol Refugee Rights
Caroline Gregory, Director, Calais Action
Amber Ray, Communications and Engagement Lead, Calderdale Valley of Sanctuary
Catharine Walston, Trustee, Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign
Eleanor Brown, CEO, CARAS
Central England Law Centre, Central England Law Centre, Central England Law Centre
Tom Martin, Director, City of Sanctuary Sheffield
Sian Summers-Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary UK
Toni Soni, Centre Director, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre
Sally Hyman, Trustee and founder, Cribs International
Matt Downie, CEO, Crisis
Fran Wood, Chair of DAR, Darlington Assistance for Refugees
Steve Cooke, Chair, Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity
Alex Vessis, CEO, Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support
Disrupt Foundation, 
Karuna, National health advisor, Doctors of the world
Penny Hardcastle, Teacher,

Farnham help for refugees
Joanne Watters, Head of Community Projects, Father Hudson's Care
Alan Strang, Volunteer, For Refugees Birminghan
Amber Bauer, CEO, forRefugees
Anna Pincus, Director, Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group
Dan Wilson Craw, Acting Director, Generation Rent
Jason Tetley, Director, Greater Manchester Law Centre
Stephan Morrison, Researcher, Groundswell
Rose Nickolds, Housing and Destitution Caseworker, Hackney Migrant Centre
Hansen Palomares, Solicitors, Hansen Palomares
Madeleine Evans, General Manager, Haringey Migrant Support Centre
Lucy Nabijou, Coordinator, Haringey Welcome
Polly Gifford, Co-Chair, Hastings Community of Sanctuary
Jane Grimshaw, Convener, Hastings Supports Refugees
Kerry Smith, Chief Executive, Helen Bamber Foundation
Angus Clark, Chief Executive, Herts for Refugees
Rosie Carter, Director of policy, HOPE not hate
Phil Davis, Director, Hope Projects
Simon Mullings, Co-chair, Housing Law Practitioners' Association
Sarah Teather, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service UK
Lisa Norcross, Project Manager, Kairos Housing
Sue Willman, Supervising Solicitor, King's College Legal Clinic
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, Head of Policy and Profile, Law Centres Network
Dragica Felja, Head of education, Law for Life
Jenny Willison, Trustee/Secretary, Leeds Destitute Asylum-Seekers Support
Pete Hobson, Chair, Leicester City of Sanctuary
Rosario Guimba-Stewart, CEO, Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network (LRMN)
Catherine Pellegrino, Senior Policy Officer, Maternity Action
Dr Joanna Dobbin, GP registrar, Medact
Sebastian Rocca, Founder and CEO, Micro Rainbow CIC
Cllr. Dr. Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, Co-founder, Migrant Champions Network
Lara Parizotto, Co-Director, Migrant Democracy Project
Son Olszewski, Caseworker, Migrants Organise
Fizza Qureshi, CEO, Migrants' Rights Network
Ceri Hutton, Chair, MigrationWork CIC
Jane Long, MTVH Migration Foundation Committee Member, MTVH Migration Foundation
Bridget Young, Director, NACCOM
John Mayford, CEO, Olmec
Shelley Meister, Founder, trustee, One and All Aid
Salma Ravat, CEO, One Roof Leicester
Alex McMahon, Senior Associate, Osbornes Law
William Ford, Partner, Osbornes Law
Amos Schonfield, CEO, Our Second Home
Paul Quinn, Owner, Paul Quinn writing and editing
Elaine Fraser, Co Founder, PEOPLE IN MOTION
Wren Trevisan, Manager, Phone Credit for Refugees
Sally Daghlian OBE, CEO, Praxis
Kristine Harris, Policy Coordinator, Project 17
Jean Demars, Director, Public Interest Law Centre
Shameem Ahmad, CEO, Public Law Project
Nick Beales, Head of Campaigning, RAMFEL
Anna Jones, CEO & Co-founder, RefuAid
Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive, Refugee Action
Sarah Fenby Dixon, Trustee, Refugee Aid Network
Shari Brown, Partnership and Development Manager, Refugee and Migrant Centre (West
Shelley Braddock- Overbury, Senior Caseworker, Refugee Asylum Seeker Migrant Action
Ruhi Akhtar, CEO / Founder, Refugee Biriyani & Bananas
Enver Solomon, CEO, Refugee Council
Nick Harborne, CEO, Refugee Support Group Berkshire
Nese Davidson-Birch, Supported Lodging Lead, Refugee Welcome Homes
Alison Moore, CEO, Refugee Women Connect
Mandy Littlewood, Project manager, Refugees & Mentors CIC
Sarah Crowther, Director, Refugees in Effective and Active Partnership (REAP
Jeremy Thompson, Manager, Restore - a project of Birmingham Churches Together
M El Sayed, Research and Advocacy Officer, Rethink Rebuild
Caroline Coombs, CEO, Reunite Families UK
Derek White, Trustee, Rochdale Action with Destitute Asylum seekers and Refugees
Polly Neate, CEO, Shelter
Elizabeth Morgan, Trustee/Treasurer, Side by Side Refugees
patrick marples, CEO, South West London Law Centres
Lucy Parker, Homeless Advice Worker, Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers
Robert Rush, Garden coordinator, Southwark Day Centre for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Rebecca Bahar, Solicitor, Southwark Law Centre
Liz Needham, Chair of Trustees, St Albans for Refugees
Abigail Martin, Manager, St Chad's Sanctuary
Becky Hellewell, Head of Support & Immigration, St. Augustine's Centre
Stephanie Neville, Project Manager, Stories of Hope and Home
Emily Crowley, Chief Executive, Student Action for Refugees (STAR)
Rachel Balabanoff, Coordinator, The Care Rights Project
Alexandra Lopoukhine, Interim Executive Director, The Joint Council for the Welfare of
Jane Williams, Founder, The Magpie Project
Alex Kempton, Director of Operations and Campaigns, The Refugee Buddy Project
William Gomes, Director, The William Gomes Podcast
Susanne Schuster, Publicity and Events volunteer, Thousand 4 £1000
Sue Hirschler, Volunteer, Thousand for £1000
Susie Dye, Grants Manager, Trust for London
Laura Coyle, Partner and Housing Solicitor, Turpin Miller LLP
Dania Thomas, Co-Director, Ubuntu Women Shelter
Andrew Jackson, Chief Executive, Upbeat Communities
Mel Steel, Director, Voices in Exile
Marcie Winstanley, Volunteer Coordinator, West End Refugee Service
Jason Hussein, Head of Advocacy and Support, West End Refugee Service
Joanne MacInnes, Director, West London Welcome
Ted Britton, Chair of Trustees, West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network (WYDAN)
George Reiss, Vice chair, Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary
Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director, Women for Refugee Women
Debby Wilson, Domestic Abuse Caseworker, Women's Aid
Jo Cobley, CEO, Young Roots
Valerie Clark, Director, Youth Legal

Wording of the letter