Housing sector

Calls grow for urgent housing reform from housing industry

More than 40 housing charities, frontline organizations and leading local authorities have united to call on the government to clean up exempt housing, an under-regulated form of supported housing that has been plagued by exploitation, corruption and profit.

The social justice charity Commonweal Housing and the Local Government Association have written a joint open letter urging the government to tackle the causes of the exploitation of the exemption system and to work towards the provision of housing and a safe, appropriate and good quality supports for vulnerable adults and young people. people.

Exempt housing is a type of supported housing where landlords who provide “more than minimal care, support or supervision” get significantly higher levels of rent covered by Housing Benefit than under the normal rules.

Shortcomings in the system have allowed accommodation providers to charge upwards of £250 per week per room, which is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions. A recent report from now-closed exempt housing provider Prospect Housing showed almost £1billion of public money was being spent on exempt housing.

The open letter was sent to the Secretaries of State for Leveling, Housing and Communities, and Work and Pensions, and was signed by major organizations and national associations.

These include the National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute for Housing, Crisis, St Mungo’s, Women’s Aid and Housing Justice. Leaders of the five local authorities who have been part of the government’s exempt accommodation pilot scheme also signed the letter, as well as mayors and central city council leaders, police commissioners and local councillors.

There has been great concern among these organizations and individuals that while many providers are trying to do a good job of meeting vital housing needs, some providers are failing to provide the quality needed in the provision or services to protect the vulnerable and other measures are needed. to eradicate them.

The exempt accommodation sector provides housing for hundreds of thousands of often-needy people, including but not limited to survivors of domestic violence, people recovering from alcohol addiction and drugs, former rough sleepers, people leaving care, asylum seekers and refugees.

Too many of these people live in cramped and often unsafe housing without the necessary support that should be expected, and often promised. Individuals from these groups are often housed together inappropriately, which further jeopardizes their recovery and, in some cases, has led to ensuing violence and crime. This situation is further marred by a lack of transparency and regulation which has allowed some exploitative providers to take advantage.

The continued rise and spread of the number of exempt accommodation programs across the country has been described by experts as a “gold rush” as providers and agents seek to take advantage of loopholes as long as they can.

Last year the Leveling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee launched an inquiry into exempt housing following growing research into the issues surrounding the sector and growing pressure from leading organizations including Commonweal Housing, who commissioned the groundbreaking report Exempt of Responsibility? with Spring Housing Association and the University of Birmingham in 2019.

In the three years since the report was published, the number of exempt accommodation units nationwide has increased significantly, with the number in Birmingham alone doubling from 11,000 to 22,000.

The government has signaled its intentions to reform and regulate the exempt accommodation sector, including launching five pilot schemes in Birmingham, Bristol, Blackpool, Blackburn and Hull.

However, the housing sector and local authorities believe that the pace of action has not responded to the urgency, and hope that this letter will encourage the government to legislate.

The letter calls on the government to:

Introduce measures to ensure that care, support and support meet the necessary and expected quality and that the Government provides local authorities with sustainable funding to support services that meet local needs, ending the injustice of exempt claimants having to pay the costs of support services who are ineligible for housing benefit;

Closing loopholes that give the possibility of exploiting the system;
Further strengthen the powers of the social housing regulator to act proactively in this area where registered providers are involved;

Support, enable and fund councils to review their local situation, including, where necessary, empowering councils to assess the need for housing assistance and carry out the development of an exempt accommodation strategy so that local authorities can actively participate in monitoring this sector .

Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing, said: “For too long exempt housing has operated under the government’s radar, slowly creating a silent crisis. Insufficient regulation allowed some landlords to financially game the system, often to the detriment of the vulnerable people it was meant to support.

“Exempt accommodation needs a thorough review and the government must enact comprehensive reforms to ensure a secure and sustainable future for the sector. I thank my colleagues in the sector and local government for their support of our message and I know that together we can deliver good quality housing and support services that put vulnerable people above profits.

Cllr James Jamieson, President of the Local Government Association, said: “The municipalities are determined that people living in exempt housing are in decent housing where they receive quality personalized support that meets their needs.

“However, we are increasingly concerned about the minority of unscrupulous providers who exploit the increased demand for this type of accommodation by taking advantage of the higher rents that can be charged for the financial gain of private investors, while failing to provide an adequate level of care.

“Not only does this have a negative impact on vulnerable people living in exempt housing and their communities, but it also places a significant burden on public funds.

“That’s why councils need to oversee exempt housing, with the powers and resources to crack down on poor providers and ensure that this type of housing and support is of a consistently high standard that meets people’s needs. “

Cllr Sharon Thompson, Cabinet Member for Vulnerable Children and Families at Birmingham City Council, said: “Mismanaged tax-free accommodation is a growing crisis in the UK, especially in big cities like Birmingham. Along with others, I have used our collective voice to call on the government to adopt a comprehensive strategy that will change the law to crack down on rogue landlords, protect vulnerable tenants and protect communities across the country. I hope the government is listening and working with charities, housing experts and local government colleagues to bring about the change we all want to see.