Government concedes judicial review of regulations removing licensing requirements for asylum seeker accommodation

R(IAB and others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities 

The Government has withdrawn plans to exempt asylum seekers in Home Office accommodation from house in multiple occupation (HMO) licensing requirements on the eve of a final court hearing of a judicial review challenge to the proposed regulations.   

In March 2023, the Government had published draft regulations intended to exempt asylum seekers accommodated by the Home Office from HMO licensing requirements for a period of two years.  This would have had the effect of removing the requirement for landlords who provide such accommodation to apply for a license from the local authority, the conditions of which usually cover important safety issues such as fire safety and overcrowding.  

The proposals elicited significant concerns from a range of civil society groups about the impact of the proposal on standards, health and safety and homelessness.   

The Claimants are eight asylum seekers living in hotel accommodation, including some who are disabled and one five-year old child, who were concerned that they risked being placed in substandard and dangerous accommodation as a result of the policy.  The claim, which was issued in July 2023, was accompanied by evidence from NGOs, local authorities and other civil society groups explaining the likely dangerous impact of the draft regulations.  Disclosure by the Government also revealed significant opposition within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, including at an early stage from Secretary of State Michael Gove.   

In satellite litigation, the Government lost an appeal to the Court of Appeal on an important issue of principle as to whether the names of junior civil servants should be routinely redacted in disclosure. 

At a hearing in the Administrative Court before Mrs Justice Lang on 7 February 2024, lawyers for the Government confirmed that the Defendants had decided not to pursue their policy of exempting asylum seekers from HMO licensing requirements and that a letter had been written notifying Parliament that the regulations had been withdrawn. This followed a notification provided to the court at 3.19pm on the day before the hearing.  

The Defendant Secretaries of State confirmed that they had no intention to lay further regulations that would exempt asylum accommodation from HMO licensing 

Expressing concern about the Government’s “last-minute concession” and the lack of any adequate justification for the lateness of the notification, leading to significant costs being incurred and court time being wasted, Mrs Justice Lang ordered the Government to pay the Claimants’ costs, including, for the latter part of the litigation, on an indemnity basis. 

The Claimants were represented by Laura Dubinsky KC, Zia Nabi and Michael Spencer

Owing to the urgent nature of the litigation, many counsel contributed or covered the case at distinct stages. At earlier stages of the proceedings, Sarah Steinhardt and Alice Irving played a key role in drafting; Jamie Burton KC represented the Claimants at two interlocutory hearings; and Rea Murray worked on witness evidence.

Counsel were instructed by Duncan Lewis Solicitors. Evidence was supplied in the proceedings by the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, NACCOM, London Borough of Lewisham, London Borough of Newham, Shelter, JCWI, Ramfel and London Property Licensing.