Writing in response to Elena Siniscalco’s article in City AM about scrapping HMO licensing, Renaisi’s Deputy Chief Executive, Natsayi Sithole shares our experience of the impact of unsafe housing on the people we support.

A row of shops with flats above it.

Elena Siniscalco’s article is spot on. By removing the safeguard of HMO regulations (houses of multiple occupancy) – even temporarily – the Government will put vulnerable people at further risk of harm and destitution.

The existing checks on housing are not working and many people we support – including elderly people and children – are housed in unsuitable accommodation. We provide employment support and advice to refugees, asylum seekers and other people who have been marginalised by society. Through our direct work with people who have experienced the asylum and immigration system, we know that affordable housing is one of the most significant enablers for people trying to improve or restart their lives.

Among many others, we’re supporting:

  • An asylum-seeking mother of two, who was placed in such a small flat she had to make a bed in a store cupboard for her eldest son.
  • An elderly refugee who was placed in shared accommodation, which caught fire because of faulty wiring. He had to jump out of the window to escape and was then placed in 4th floor shared accommodation, without a lift, despite suffering a bad leg injury.
  • A family with two children who automatically received an eviction letter – with 28 days notice – from their asylum support accommodation on receipt of their right to remain in the UK. Their local authority acknowledged a ‘duty of care’ to provide accommodation but even at 5pm on their eviction day they’d still not heard anything. It wasn’t until 9pm that night, when the family were standing on the street with their belongings that they were advised to contact social services, who then contacted the housing office on their behalf to get them a room in a B&B. They were moved out of the borough two weeks later.

The impact of poor or insecure housing

A safe home is the bedrock on which good health and wellbeing rely, without which getting into work or training cannot be realised. When individuals are poorly housed not only do their education and employment prospects suffer, but they can also experience serious physical and mental health issues.

Lowering standards and effectively legalising unsafe housing will be catastrophic for the mental and physical health of people we work alongside, many of whom have already experienced serious trauma. 

Rather than solving the root cause of this issue by creating safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum and tackling the backlog of asylum claims, scrapping HMO will create more housing, health and other systemic issues that will seriously impact people’s lives.

Asylum seekers will be unable to rebuild their lives after escaping conflict or persecution. What does that say about us as a society? 

Natsayi Sithole standing in a garden