Houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) are a niche feature of the property market and are overwhelmingly situated in the private rented sector (PRS), and their tenants often experience multiple forms of vulnerability. As a result, they are at considerable risk of fuel poverty. However, partly because of the particular structure and limited number of HMOs, little attention has been paid by researchers to this type of living arrangement and the implications for energy efficiency and fuel poverty.
Key research Question
The research aims to inform policy-makers and practitioners and to better understand the nature of HMOs in terms of their prevalence, distribution and genesis. It examines the characteristics of their tenants and the typologies of fuel poverty in such properties. It also attempts to frame these issues within wider questions of social justice.
Summary of activity
The project involved a literature review of academic research on HMOs and an appraisal of the current policy framework. Data were generated through semi-structured interviews with local authority housing environmental health officers in Manchester.
There has been very little previous research on the energy profile of HMOs, but that which exists indicates they are likely to be in poor condition, prone to damp and cold, and disproportionately older properties. Their residents often belong to highly vulnerable groups (e.g. migrants, asylum seekers, ex-offenders and the homeless) with relatively little income and a limited ability to challenge, or seek redress from, landlords.
Current policy and practice regarding fuel poverty does not reflect or take account of HMOs (e.g. the lack of a requirement for an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and an unclear methodology for assessing the energy efficiency of such properties), and major programmes such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) do not prioritise them.
Local authorities are the primary actors working to improve the condition of HMOs. Useful mechanisms include landlord licensing and health and safety powers but, while there are examples of good practice, this is not widespread, and local authorities are struggling with reduced budgets.
The authors created examples of archetypal HMOs in order to provide policy-makers with better awareness of the common energy issues faced by residents of such properties. Specific recommendations included:
National policy should mandate higher energy efficiency criteria for HMOs in the PRS with a view to ensuring that they meet the minimum standards regulations for the PRS in the Energy Act 2011. This should include the issuing of EPCs to HMO tenants, guidance to local authorities to ensure that licensing and other regulatory tools maximise the potential to address substandard homes, and the targeting of ECO grants to HMOs.
On a broader front, policy and practice regarding energy efficiency and fuel poverty must be adjusted to recognise HMOs.
Government departments (the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government) must provide local authorities with the support needed to implement local interventions. This includes guidance on suitable methodologies for assessing energy performance in HMOs, the strengthening of regulatory powers where necessary and assistance to enforce them.