How does HMO licensing work?


Until further notice, tenants should contact their landlord (or agent) to report any urgent disrepair. This should be done in writing (email, text conversations, or letter with proof of postage) before they contact Wirral Council.

The council will not look into non-urgent or serious housing disrepair complaints, unless tenants can provide proof that the landlord hasn’t responded to their request for emergency repairs within 48 hours. Officers may ask for photographs of disrepair instead of visiting properties, if this information can be provided electronically.

Some HMOs need to be licensed by the Council 

Since 2006, a house in multiple occupation (HMO) that was three or more storeys in height, occupied to five or more persons, in two or more separate households must have had a mandatory HMO licence from the Council.

Changes in the law from October 2018

From 1st October 2018, anyone who owns or manages a HMO which is occupied by five or more occupants in two or more households and they share any of the basic amenities such as a toilet, personal washing facilities or cooking facilities, or where any of the basic amenities are not located within a flat, must have a mandatory HMO licence, irrespective of the number of storeys.

If you own a HMO which meets the above criteria and you haven't obtained a mandatory licence. More information on HMO licensing and how to apply can be found on Houses in multiple occupation licence page.

If you wish to complete a paper application form you can download it. Please be aware that there will be additional costs for the Council to carry out the administration of a paper application.

Please be aware that although a HMO may not require a mandatory HMO licence e.g. if it is occupied by fewer than five occupants, Wirral Council do currently operate a selective licensing scheme which a smaller HMO may fall into.  Please refer to our selective licensing scheme webpages to identify if a smaller HMO is located within a selective licensing designated area.

How does HMO licensing work?

Anyone who owns or manages a licensable HMO must ensure that a licence is applied for.  The Council must grant a licence if it is satisfied that the:

  • HMO is reasonably suitable for occupation by the number of people allowed under the licence,
  • proposed licence holder is a fit and proper person,
  • proposed licence holder is the most appropriate person to hold the licence,
  • proposed Manager (if any) is also a fit and proper,
  • proposed management arrangements are satisfactory, the person involved in the management of the HMO is competent and the financial structures for the management are suitable.

What does ‘fit and proper person’ mean?

In deciding whether someone is fit and proper, the Council must take into account:

  • any previous convictions relating to violence, sexual offences, drugs and fraud
  • whether the proposed licence holder has broken any laws relating to housing or landlord and tenant issues
  • whether the person has been found guilty of unlawful discrimination
  • whether the person has previously managed HMOs that have broken any approved code of practice.

The council may carry out further checks to make sure that the person applying for the licence is a fit and proper person. It is advisable for the landlord or manager to be a member of a professionally recognised body, or a recognised landlords association.

What is in a licence?

A licence must contain certain mandatory conditions as required by the Housing Act 2004. The licence will set out the maximum number of persons and households who may live in the HMO.

The council can also apply their own licence conditions, however it should be noted that the conditions will vary property to property.

There are prescribed standards for deciding the suitability for occupation of a licensed HMO by a particular maximum number of households or persons which can be found in The Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation and Other Houses (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006, schedule 3. In general it provides standards such as:

  • providing heating requirements
  • washing facilities
  • kitchens
  • units of living accommodation without shared basic amenity
  • to provide additional bathrooms or personal washing facilities
  • to provide kitchen facilities for the exclusive use of the occupant(s) of designated rooms

Processing time for a mandatory HMO licence?

The Council will endeavour to issue a licence as soon as possible after you have submitted all relevant documents with your application. This should take no longer than 8 weeks, however if for any reason the licence has not been issued during this period, a licence will be automatically authorised and issued.

The only exception to this will be applications deemed to be more complex.  With these particular cases, the period will only be extended once and for a limited time. In such instances, the applicant will be notified accordingly before the expiration of the original 8 week period.


Wirral Council works closely with many landlords and managing agents to ensure the accommodation they provide meets the regulations and requirements that apply to mandatory licensable HMOs.

It is good practice to give your tenants a copy of the licence or display a copy in a communal area in a prominent position. 

It is strongly recommended that a landlord and/or managing agent contact the Property Accreditation Team at Wirral Council and register an interest in becoming registered with the scheme.


If you currently live in a property let out to five or more persons who are not in the same family group, and share any of the basic amenities such as a toilet, personal washing facilities or cooking facilities, or where any of the amenities are not located within a flat, your landlord must have a mandatory HMO licence.

If you want to make sure that your home has been licensed you should ask your landlord to show you a copy of the licence or you can check whether the address is licensed by checking the register.

Wirral Council are required to keep a public register of all mandatory HMO licenses that have been issued. HMOs with licences can be viewed on the HMO register page.

Temporary exemption from licensing

If an owner or manager of an HMO intends to carry out alterations to the property that would result in the property falling outside of the scope of HMO licensing e.g. converting the property into entirely self-contained flats so that facilities are no longer shared; he or she may apply for a Temporary Exemption Notice (TEN).

A TEN is a discretionary measure and lasts for three months and ensures that a property is in the process of being converted from a HMO that needs to be licensed. If the situation is not resolved, then a second Temporary Exemption Notice may be issued in exceptional circumstances. When the second TEN runs out and the property remains licensable, it must either be licensed, become subject to an Interim Management Order, or cease to be a HMO.

It is unlikely that this discretionary measure can be used to reduce the number of persons occupying the HMO property due to the provisions set out for the recovery of possessions in current legislation.

Penalties and Sanctions for an unlicensed HMO


Failure to apply for a licence when required is an offence punishable on summary conviction to an unlimited fine. Alternatively, a Civil Penalty Notice of up to £30,000 can be issued. 

Repayment of rent

Tenants including former tenants living at the property whilst it was unlicensed or the Council may apply to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) for a Rent Repayment Order (RRO) to reclaim up to 12 months’ rent from the landlord.  Apply for an RRO.

Exceeding maximum number of persons or households

Letting a licensed HMO to more than the maximum number of occupants and households as stated on the licence is an offence punishable on summary conviction to an unlimited fine.  Alternatively a Civil Penalty Notice of up to £30,000 is an option available to the local authority.

Failing to comply with licence conditions

Anyone failing to comply with licence conditions commits an offence punishable on summary conviction to an unlimited fine per offence.  A Civil Penalty Notice up to £30,000 is an alternative sanction available to the local authority.