Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting OXFORD NEWS to 80360 or email us
HMO rules will split up low-paid 'family'
A CHURCH leader has criticised Oxford City Council for shared housing rules which are set to divide a “family” of low-paid workers.
The Diocese of Oxford’s David Mason spoke after one of its tenants was told he could no longer provide a home for up to five adults.
Jim Hewitt, 68, said he has taken people into his three-bedroom house with diocese permission to ease pressure on city homes for 15 years.
But he can now only let two people stay at his Monks Close, Blackbird Leys home, under the city’s 2011 Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) regime.
The rules state that homes with three or more non-related people must get a HMO licence from the council.
Mr Mason – diocese director of Glebe and buildings – said: “If the city council is choosing to interpret the HMO regulations in such a restrictive way it will prevent people like Mr Hewitt, who have a heart to support those who are less able to support themselves, from being able to provide a safe family environment on affordable terms.”
Mr Hewitt – last year awarded an MBE for his community work – has mostly taken in people from Timor, south east Asia.
There are currently two people in one bedroom, two each have their own room and a fifth person who sleeps in the living room. They share the £580 a month rent equally.
He said: “I have to tell the people I regard as my family that their willingness to live here as a household and family is not acceptable.”
Mr Hewitt said: “Regulations intended to protect the vulnerable are being used to break up strong relational households and drive people into the rent-for-profit market.”
He said it contrasted with the Government’s “bedroom tax”, where social housing tenants face a cut in housing benefit if they have “spare” bedrooms.
He said: “On the one hand the Government is saying ‘you must make full use of your house, there will be penalties if you don’t’.
“Then they are saying to me ‘you should under-occupy your house’.”
Timorese cleaner Jorge Dos Santos, 35, said: “We are all brothers here and it will be a great shame to split up.”
The HMO regime was introduced in a bid to clamp down on low-quality shared homes.
The council estimates there are 5,000 HMOs, of which 551 have been licensed and 2,709 are awaiting a decision. Some 33 landlords have been taken to court or given a formal caution.
Council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said: “The council would be more than happy to licence the property but neither Mr Hewitt nor the Diocese of Oxford appear willing to apply.”
Mr Hewitt helped run the Blackbird Leys Credit Union for 20 years and used to be a community worker with the Holy Family Church in Cuddesdon Way.