Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

Our Mission: Safer Stronger Communities - Safe Effective Firefighters.

Shared Accomodation

Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)It is not always easy to define a house in multiple occupation. Ultimately, we rely on legal definitions and past court cases. In general, a house in multiple occupation is one in which facilities such as the kitchen and bathroom are shared by more than one household. Some dwellings with many shared facilities, such as houses converted into self-contained flats, are also classified as HMOs. Houses in multiple occupation include:
  • houses converted into self-contained flats, each occupied by a single household;
  • shared houses and bedsit houses;
  • shared flats;
  • houses containing a mixture of flats in single occupation and bedsits;
  • hostels; and
  • hotels and boarding houses.

Small residential care homesThese are similar to private dwellings in character and have to be registered with the local authority. They can provide accommodation with care for up to three residents, plus staff and their relatives.The people who run the homes are required to "take adequate precautions against the risk of fire" by regulations.Fire brigades are not required to inspect them by law but as they are used by mainly older at risk residents, they are a suitable priority for Community Fire Safety visits. Recommended standards are covered by Fire Service Circular 11/1993. Most of the advice in this module is designed for HMOs.

Basic safety message

In 2000, 153 people in the UK lost their lives as a result of fire in houses in multiple occupation. 6,668 more were injured.

When you consider moving into privately rented accommodation, you are likely to look at the state of decoration, furnishing and repair of the property. The last thing on your mind is whether the accommodation is safe from fire and whether you would be safe should a fire occur. However, houses in multiple occupation are particularly at risk of fire as they can present lethal dangers.

Fires and casualties from fires in multiple occupancy dwellings 2000
  United Kingdom England and Wales
    Casualties   Casualties
Location Fires Fatal Non-fatal Fires Fatal Non-fatal
Multiple occupancy dwellings


The Government issued guidance in 1992 to local authorities on the standards they could adopt when exercising their enforcement powers under certain sections of the Housing Act 1985. This includes guidance on standards for means of escape from fire and other fire precautions. In April 1999, the Government acknowledged this guidance may no longer be appropriate in all cases and issued revised guidance as an interim measure. Future guidance will be based on analysing the fire risk in each HMO.

British Standards

There are many British Standards relating to fire safety. The most recent on fire safety in the homes is BS 5839 : part 6: 1995. It covers HMOs that are described as dwellings (this excludes hostels, boarding houses and hotels). The Standard advises that any HMO should be assessed for its fire risk and then all work should be based on the level of risk that is found. The four main factors for consideration are:
  • the probability of a fire occurring;
  • the probability of injury or death of occupants if a fire occurs;
  • the probability of the fire alarm system operating correctly at the time of a fire; and
  • the probability of early detection and warning of occupants in the event of fire.
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