Why hast thou Article Four-saken me?

Ken Staunton, NLA Head of Regions discusses the spread of Article Four Directions

Unless you’re an avid member of the National Trust (or happen to live in a conservation area) Article Four of the Town and Country Planning Act was probably not a major topic of conversation up until a year or two ago.

All of that has changed, thanks to some of the last actions of the previous Government in the Spring of 2010.

Up until April 2010 private homes housing fewer than six unrelated individuals, irrespective of their tenure or occupiers, were classed by planning regulations as ‘dwelling houses’. This was based on the notion that it does not make a great deal of difference to local infrastructure whether a household accommodates three unrelated sharers or an average sized family.

So far so good. Or so you would think….

Despite their own evidence to the contrary (see the 2008 Rugg Review of the Private Rented Sector anyone who is interested), the last Government decided that the over- concentration of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) was a problem of national significance. They then introduced legislation creating a whole new ‘use class’ for planning purposes. From that point onwards, a property could be either a ‘dwelling house’ or an ‘HMO’ dependent on who lives there.

Long story short, the Government changed colours and amended this legislation to remove the automatic need to obtain permission to change a house from definition to another, but allowed local authorities to require such an application in their area if they so choose.

The problem is that this is a little more than just a labelling exercise. Increasingly local authorities in England are using this new found option to arbitrarily limit new shared homes within their boundaries. So far, more than 30 have started down this path, with a few opting to forego the usual notice period and jump straight to implementing ‘Article Four’ notices (as the regulation is known) with immediate effect.

Some argue that this is social engineering of the worst kind; others describe it as nimbyism of the worst sort. Whatever the label the net impact is that the availability of shared housing is to drop at a time when demand is high and getting ever higher thanks to Government policy.

In January, single Local Housing Allowance recipients under the age of 35 will only be able to claim for a single room in a shared house (currently the threshold is 25.) This combined with other welfare reforms and an overall housing shortage is predicted to increase demand for shared accommodation by more than 60,000 individual units.

My question to Government, both local and central, is where are these homes supposed to come from? This at a time when so many local authorities simply want to push those on the lowest incomes and with the greatest need elsewhere.

Landlords around the country cannot afford to ignore this issue. To see if you’re affected, or to let us know that your area is considering an Article Four Direction, please visit the NLA’s website and help us to ‘Save Shared Housing’.

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