Out in the cold: HMOs and energy efficiency policy

Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) have long been overlooked in housing and environmental health research despite the challenges of managing this type of property. My own research has highlighted that in low income settings HMOs increasingly house vulnerable people who are unable to access other types of housing often due to affordability and inadequate provision of social housing (see Barratt et al. 2012). A new report has a highlighted how HMOs have been overlooked in policy terms too.

Lead by David Weatherall (Future Climate) and Dr Jenni Viitanen (Centre for Urban Research and Energy (CURE), Manchester University) this new research highlights that despite the vulnerability of people residing in HMOs and the poor condition of HMO stock, there is a significant gap with regard to HMOs and energy efficiency and fuel poverty policy making. Whilst other property types in the private rented sector (PRS) have to produce Energy Performance Certificates, HMOs that are let on a room-by-room basis are not required to do so. In the summary report it is noted: ‘without an EPC to act as a “trigger” at the point of rental, minimum energy efficiency standards to be applied to the rest of the private rented sector under the 2011 Energy Act will exclude HMOs that are let on a room-by-room basis’ (Future Climate and CURE 2014: 2). Furthermore, even if EPCs were made obligatory for this type of HMO it is currently unclear what process should be used to assess a property’s energy performance which is something that must also be addressed.

Additionally, the authors fear that the invisibility of HMOs within the current energy efficiency policy framework means that properties will also be overlooked with regards to possible for funding for energy efficiency improvements under ECO (Energy Company Obligation) regulations. In the full report the authors note that ‘HMOs with non-standard built forms and multiple tenants may not be prioritised for ECO funding as they are seen as too challenging – and therefore expensive – to address’ (Viitanen and Weatherall 2014: 44).

For environmental health professionals (EHP) the failure to fully incorporate HMOs into the energy efficiency and fuel poverty policy framework is a crucial oversight that constrains potential mechanisms which could potentially support EHPs to minimise risk in HMO properties, particularly those in relation to excess cold. The summary report does acknowledge that some local authorities already try and make up for this policy deficit through requiring an EPC as part of HMO license conditions however this is not widespread practice.

Overall this is an important piece of research which highlights a range of challenges that if addressed could result in improved living conditions and reduced fuel bills for HMO residents. The summary report is particularly accessible and should be read by everyone working to improve standards in HMOs. All the reports I’ve referred to can be accessed through the links in the reference list below.

I hope you find it interesting.

Best wishes

Caroline

Barratt, C., Green, G., Speed, E. and Price, P. Understanding the relationship between mental health and bedsits in a seaside town [Online]. Available at: http://www.essex.ac.uk/hhs/documents/research/clacton-bedsit-report.pdf[Accessed: 12 May 2014].

Future Climate and Centre for Urban Research. 2014. Housing in Multiple Occupancy: Energy Issues and Policy Summary Report. Available at: http://futureclimate.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/HMO-Summary-FINAL.pdf [Accessed: 17 July 2014].

Viitanen, J. and Weatherall, D. 2014. Housing in Multiple Occupancy: Energy Issues and Policy. Available at: http://www.eagacharitabletrust.org/index.php/projects/item/houses-in-multiple-occupation-improving-policy-and-practice [Accessed: 17th July 2014].

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