Written by Nikki O’Hagan, 13th June 2023

Ipswich, UK – A critical window of opportunity has opened for developers and homeowners in Ipswich as the Borough Council takes steps to control the conversion of standard houses and flats to small HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation).

Currently, standard houses and flats can be converted to small HMOs (up to 6 residents) without any need to apply for planning permission. That’s thanks to a national permitted development right – click the link below to find out more about those.

However, local councils have powers to remove national permitted development rights in their areas provided there is good cause. Those powers are known as “Article 4 Directions” – click the link below to find out more about them.

New Article 4 Direction to take effect in Ipswich

There are already a few Article 4 Directions in place in Ipswich, mostly within its Conservation Areas. On 9th May 2023, Ipswich Borough Council introduced a new one. 

The new Article 4 Direction will remove the right to convert standard houses and flats to small HMOs in certain parts of Ipswich.

The conversion of standard residential properties to larger HMOs (7 or more residents) already requires planning permission so there is no change there. 


The new Article 4 Direction will only affect certain parts of Ipswich, mostly within or close to the Town Centre. The 12 affected wards include:

  • Alexandra
  • Bridge
  • Castle Hill
  • Holywells
  • St John’s
  • St Margaret’s. 

A map of all the areas affected by the new Article 4 Direction appears below.

Article 4 Direction HMO Ipswich


Although the Article 4 Direction was introduced in May 2023, it’s not due to take effect until 1st June 2024. This means developers and homeowners in Ipswich still have just under a year to convert their residential properties to small HMOs (up to 6 residents). After 1st June 2024, you will need to apply for planning permission to carry out the conversion and Ipswich Borough Council will be entitled to say no. 

Members of the public can still object to the Article 4 Direction until 21st June 2023. All public comments will be taken into account by the Council. Email your comments to planningpolicy@ipswich.gov.uk or submit them here:

Although there is a chance the Article 4 Direction could still be scrapped entirely, we think this is unlikely. Developers and homeowners should cautiously prepare for it to take effect from 1st June 2024


Although the Borough Council acknowledges there is not a very large number of HMOs in the area*, they are concerned about the clustering – or over-concentration – of HMOs in certain parts of the town. They define a cluster as a group of 3 or more HMOs within a 200m radius.

In the Council’s opinion, the clusters “could have a harmful impact on the surrounding single-family dwellings as well as the sustainable and well managed supply of the HMOs themselves”. 

*The Council reports there are currently around 151 known HMOs in the Borough. For comparison, Norwich has around 3000. 

What does this mean for the affected parts of Ipswich?

If you’re currently contemplating the conversion of your house or flat to a HMO, you should move quickly. After 1st June 2024, you will have to apply for planning permission for the conversion and this can be both a costly and a time-consuming process. 

In addition, there is no guarantee the Council will support your planning application. If they refuse to grant you planning permission, you will not be allowed to carry out the conversion.

The silver lining: there is another national permitted development right that allows you to convert a small HMO (up to 6 residents) to a normal house or flat. That right is not being cancelled by the new Article 4 Direction so, if you change your mind, you can always convert your HMO back.

Why might the Council refuse to grant me planning permission for my HMO from 1st June 2024?

From 1st June 2024, the new Article 4 Direction to control HMOs in Ipswich will take effect. From that date, there are many reasons the Council could refuse to grant planning permission for the conversion of your property to a HMO. Some of the most common reasons include:

  1. Increased noise and disturbance of neighbours and local residents
  2. Insufficient parking for the increased number of residents
  3. Over-concentration of HMOs (especially if there are already 2 HMOs within 200m)
  4. Reduces the supply of family housing (especially if there is already an undersupply)
  5. Poor standard of accommodation (for example, there is no garden).

Before 1st June 2024, can I just get on with my HMO conversion or do I need to do anything first? 

Technically speaking, you can just carry out the conversion without any need to contact or notify the Council’s planning department. If there are 5 or more occupants, you will still need to apply for a HMO license but this is separate to planning.

However, we strongly recommend that you apply for a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) prior to the conversion. The LDC would be issued by Ipswich Borough Council and would formally confirm the conversion of your residential property to a small HMO is lawful. That means no enforcement action can be taken against it. 


Although the conversion of standard houses and flats to small HMOs doesn’t currently require planning permission, that’s all set to change on 1st June 2024. From that date, the Council will be able to take enforcement action against any person who converts their house or flat to a HMO without first obtaining their formal planning consent. 

If your residential property was converted to a HMO before 1st June 2024, you should be immune from enforcement action. However, the burden of proof will be on you – the owner of the property – to prove the conversion took place prior to 1st June 2024. The best proof is a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) as this is issued by the Council itself.

The Council will always check its own records before taking enforcement action and, if an LDC is in place, they will not proceed to take action against you. 

If you don’t have an LDC, you may end up having to argue the case with the Council. That can be both expensive and time-consuming. If you’re not able to produce enough evidence that the conversion took place prior to 1st June 2024, you could be forced to convert the property back – at your own expense – and evict your tenants. 

LDC applications are fairly straightforward, speedy and inexpensive. They are well worth the effort and expense, especially where there is a clear threat of future enforcement action. They are also frequently required upon the sale of a property.

Click the link below to find out more about the benefits of applying for a Lawful Development Certificate.

How can Planning Direct assist me?

Planning Direct handles many LDC applications every year and has a good working relationship with Ipswich Borough Council. We can handle your LDC application from start to finish for a very reasonable cost. 

Until 1st June 2024, we are pleased to offer a rare 20% discount on LDC applications for the conversion of standard houses/flats to small HMOs throughout Ipswich.

After 1st June 2024, we can assist you to apply for full planning permission for your HMO. Whilst planning permission is never guaranteed, a strong planning application can make all the difference. We will ensure potential issues are identified and addressed early in the process** to give you the best possible chance of success. 

**for example, insufficient parking provision can be overcome with a robust Travel Plan or Transport Statement.

Find out what some of our recent clients had to say about working with Planning Direct here:

Wherever you are in the UK, we offer all sorts of planning assistance for all types of HMO projects. To find out more, contact us today. Our initial advice is always free of charge.

Find out more about Ipswich’s new Article 4 Direction on the Borough Council’s dedicated webpage here:

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