Housing sector

Inside Housing – Commentary – As a trade body in the housing industry, we are concerned about the rise of exempt accommodation providers

As the industry’s trade body, our role is to champion the value that housing associations bring to our society and to celebrate best practice across the industry. I am immensely proud of the incredible supported housing providers we represent, who provide excellent services in an incredibly challenging environment.

But they should not be confused with the actions of landlords entering the supported housing market for the wrong reasons: primarily to make a profit instead of helping individuals and their local communities.

That’s why the NHF Board took action. We amended the organization’s membership policy for new members and agreed to bring the decision to update the bylaws for existing members to our Annual General Meeting in September.

This means that we will refuse membership applications from any provider that does not meet the standards we have set out in our new Membership Policy. Additionally, we are requesting additional assurances from a small number of our existing members based on these new standards.

The Board will consider suspending or withdrawing the membership of any NHF member who they believe is not in line with our statutes and philosophy.

As a business organization in the industry, we can set expectations, make it clear that we do not believe the type of practices described above are acceptable, and clarify what we mean by not-for-profit, but as an organization commercial, we cannot solve this problem.

“We need more affordable housing options and residents need to be empowered to voice their concerns”

The social housing regulator (RSH) has already expressed serious concerns about service standards, financial stability, governance and the level of rents charged by a number of exempt housing providers.

We’ve seen them take action, including making a number of downgrades, delisting some organizations, and making other regulatory interventions.

The RSH has clear powers to intervene and demand improvements in the event of non-compliance with the standards. We encourage the RSH to continue to act with urgency, especially against organizations where there are questions about whether ostensibly non-profit organizations are distributing profits.

The government also has an important role to play. Rolling out their policies in the White Paper on Social Housing will give the regulator stronger powers and a stricter definition of “not-for-profit”.

We hope to see the implementation of the white paper as soon as possible. We have promoted the national statement of government expectations for supported housing and support local authority pilot projects sponsored by the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government which study the impact of coordinated local action .

These will help to understand how to solve problems at the local level and what new powers might be needed.

Addressing broader housing issues across the country would also make it less viable for these organizations to exploit the loophole. We need more affordable housing options and residents need to be empowered to voice their concerns.

This problem is far from being solved. But national and local government, the regulator and the housing sector can all work together, with a common understanding of the issues, to stamp this out.

This is how we can, and must, achieve something better for residents in need of supported housing and their local communities.

Baroness Diana Warwick, President, National Housing Federation