Cuts to the basic housing protections provided to asylum seekers could cause tens of thousands to be housed in unsafe conditions. Three families seeking asylum in the UK have decided to challenge a change in basic housing protection rules made by the Home Office. These rules, made in an attempt to limit the amount of money spent on housing asylum seekers, threaten the safety of those seeking asylum.
The new rules state that landlords in England and Wales will be able to house asylum seekers for two years without having the proper house in multiple occupation (HMO) licensing. These changes are due to the influx of asylum seekers and the growing backlog which have caused a shortage of housing. These housing shortages led the government to house up to 50,000 people in hotels. This housing expenditure totals £6 million a day, leading the Housing Office to want to make the monetary cuts. Changes range from exemptions from regulations regarding electrical safety to minimum room sizes.
The new rules will not require landlords to register the housing with local authorities. Lawyers deem the new accommodation contracts that the Housing Office hopes to implement as “nonsensical”. They assert that there has been no “careful investigation” into whether the new rules supply safe and appropriate accommodation. They state that new rules are a government approved way to use cheap properties that do not meet standards on size, facilities, or minimum safety.
Campaign and network manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of immigrants Mary Atkinson explains that ‘much asylum accommodation already falls below these standards, with people seeking sanctuary housed in cramped, windowless rooms smaller than prison cells.’ Lawyers believe that the new rules would allow landlords to breach occupants’ rights without the fear of criminal liability which is usually extended to landlords breaching HMO standards.
A representative for the three families, Sheroy Zaq of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said this ‘draft legislation threatens the safety of asylum seekers including families with children placed in unlicensed accommodation.’ As many asylum seekers are vulnerable and have endured trauma, Zaq states that the new proposals “threaten the safety of the wider community”.
Lawyers hope that their legal actions will cause home secretary Suella Braverman and housing community secretary Michael Grove to retract or suspend the new regulations until further inquiries are made. In response to the challenge, a spokesperson for the Home Office stated that ‘These changes will not compromise standards and all properties will be independently inspected to ensure they continue to meet national housing quality requirements, covering issues such as overcrowding and fire safety. By temporarily removing this licensing requirement, we will be able to acquire more suitable long-term accommodation while continuing to meet our legal duty of care.’