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Belfast City Council briefs Housing Practitioners' Forum on new HMO regime

Members attending Housing Rights Housing Advice Practitioners' Forum

Stephen Leonard, Neighbourhood Manager at Belfast City Council briefed members of the Housing Practitioners’ Forum on the new HMO regime, which comes into effect on 1st April 2019.

New HMO Regime

The Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 received Royal Assent in May 2016 and certain sections of the Act commenced on that date, giving the Department for Communities authority to lay the groundwork for a new regulatory regime.  In the absence of an assembly, the Department for Communities (DfC) has liaised with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and Council officials to draft Subordinate Regulations and a Code of Practice for Landlords.  Is is understood that the new regime will take  effect from 1 April 2019, on which date responsibility for the regulation of HMOs will transfer from NIHE to local Councils.

Revised definition of HMO

There are currently 6,121 registered HMOs across Northern Ireland, with the majority of these located in University areas – Belfast, Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry. Under the revised definition of what constitutes an HMO, if the accommodation is occupied by 3 or more persons, forming more than 2 households and rent is payable, the accommodation will be classed as an HMO (though some exceptions apply e.g. purpose-built managed student accommodation). Under the new HMO regime, it will be an offence to manage a licensable HMO without holding the appropriate licence.

Existing HMO registration will remain valid under the new HMO regime, however, until such times as this expires, at which point HMO owners / managers will need to apply for a license under the new HMO regime. Belfast City Council is set to manage applications on behalf of all Councils in Northern Ireland and there will be an online portal through which applications and representations can be submitted.

Council officials will assess the suitability of accommodation for use as an HMO (including consideration of the condition of the property, space standard and potential hazards as set out under Regulations 1-3 of the Subordinate Regulations) and whether the applicant is a ‘fit and proper’ person. Councils will also inspect HMOs. Councils will have the power to vary, revoke or refuse a license, if it is deemed that the HMO does not meet the required standards (though there will also be scope to issue conditions on the license to bring a property up to standard and also for applicants to appeal the Council’s decision).

Housing Rights will shortly be publishing a professional resource on the new HMO regime and has developed a new HMO training package, which is being delivered in May. If you are interested in registering for this course, please contact gail AT housingrights.org.uk. Alternatively, if you are an owner or manager of an HMO and you have any queries, you can contact our Landlord Advice Line on 02890 245640 (option 5).

Information update

Following the Council’s presentation, an information update was provided in relation to the following matters:

  • An update regarding the changes of circumstance which can trigger a person to naturally migrate to Universal Credit;
  • Updates on Universal Credit, including changes to entitlement to housing costs for 18-21 year olds, families with more than 2 children now being able to apply for Universal Credit and those who receive Severe Disability Premium (SDP) with a legacy benefit no longer being able to naturally migrate to Universal Credit;
  • Discussion of the Northern Ireland Audit Office’s recent report on Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland, in which underspend of the Universal Credit Contingency Fund and Discretionary Support Fund was highlighted; and
  • Recent case law whereby the High Court found the Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Credit assessment periods approach to be unlawful.

Benefits of the Housing Advice Practitioners Forum

  • An opportunity for shared learning and to discuss best practice;
  • The opportunity to develop networking relationships with other housing advice practitioners;
  • The chance to improve communication between agencies;
  • The opportunity to be briefed by external organisations on particular topics of interest;
  • The opportunity to raise housing issues arising from your own agencies

All member organisations are invited to the Forum and, as it is a benefit of membership, it is free to attend. To find out more about membership, please contact Laura AT housingrights.org.uk.

Tagged In

Regulation, Private Tenancies

This article was written on 8 March 2019. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.