Together with Future Climate, we recently received funding from the EAGA Charitable Trust for a new project titled Housing in Multiple Occupancy: Energy Issues and Policy (HOME). Among other goals, the project will aim to improve the limited understanding of energy vulnerability (structural drivers, norms and coping strategies linked to energy use) among households living in multiple occupancy homes in the UK.
In addition to conducting a national review of relevant policy and legislation, the project illustrates policy implementation and ‘real context’ experiences through a case study of Manchester. This case study recently began with an exploration of the regulatory landscape around HMOs. Manchester City Council (MCC) operates a scheme of ‘mandatory licensing’. The licensing scheme involves property inspections and the administration of relevant declarations by the licensee. The license can be granted for up to 5 years at a time, with properties deemed at risk of non-compliance given shorter licenses. A mandatory licensing scheme applies to properties that are:
- three storeys or more (including usable basements or attics); and
- occupied by five or more people;
- those people form two or more households;
- tenants share some amenities like kitchen, bathroom or laundry.
In the Manchester context, the licensed HMO market falls into two main categories: students and hostel/B&B (the latter accommodating single males in the main). There are just over one thousand licensed HMOs in Manchester, which is a high number compared with other Greater Manchester authorities. It is thought that HMO offer is demand led, therefore the large student population as well as the social need will drive HMO offer in Manchester.
Some local authorities, e.g. Oxford, run compulsory licensing schemes of all HMOs. Here, landlords with any type of HMO need a license, so areas such Oxford will have a more accurate picture of the entire HMO market than Manchester. In Manchester, the market falling outside of the mandatory definition is a ‘great unknown’ – so the market is difficult to quantify or monitor.
Our early investigation highlights that the HMO licensing process has very little to do with energy efficiency of the properties. Most attention in the inspection process is on meeting statutory health and safety regulations. There is, however, a requirement to have “fixed heating” (portable heaters are not adequate) and windows in decent repair.
We have also touched upon social issues in HMOs. For the student market, there has been a general shift from traditional converted properties into modern purpose-built apartment blocks, where energy bills tend to be included in the rent. Many students prefer fixed costs compared with the traditional shared house arrangement where students have fluctuating energy bills which are more difficult to budget for. Nevertheless, it was recently reported that students face a major cost-of-living crisis.
The hostel/B&B market is a very different type of accommodation, and the client group is often people who are marginalised or have difficulty accessing or sustaining stable housing. The building stock is typically in a poorer state of repair than student accommodation, but there are very few complaints in relation to heating or energy issues. Some of this is thought to reflect the fact that occupants with ‘chaotic’ lives or immediate medical or social problems to deal with, do not prioritise energy or heating concerns. Private sector housing services receive many more complaints from ‘mainstream’ family homes.
Our next focus will be on how current energy efficiency interventions such as Green Deal or ECO can be applied to HMOs in the Greater Manchester context.