Councils and housing charities urge reform of ‘exploited’ supported housing schemes

More than 40 leading housing charities, frontline organisations, and local authorities have united in a call to Government to clean up exempt accommodation, an underregulated form of supported housing that has fallen victim to exploitation, corruption and profiteering.

Social justice charity Commonweal Housing and the Local Government Association (LGA) have penned a joint open letter urging the Government to tackle the cases of exploitation of the exempt system and work towards the provision of secure, appropriate, and good quality housing and support for vulnerable adults and young people.

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

The loopholes in the system have enabled housing providers to charge upwards of £250 per week, per room, which is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). A recent report by the now closed exempt accommodation provider Prospect Housing showed that nearly £1bn of public money was being spent on exempt accommodation.

The open letter has been sent to the Secretaries of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and for Work and Pensions, and has been signed by leading organisations and national membership bodies.

These include the National Housing Federation, the Chartered Institute for Housing, Crisis, St Mungo’s, Women’s Aid and Housing Justice. Leaders at the five local authorities that have been part of the Government’s exempt accommodation pilot scheme have also signed the letter, as well as Mayors and leaders of councils at the Core Cities, Police Commissioners and local councillors.

There has been significant concern among these organisations and individuals that whilst many providers are trying to do a good job and meet vital housing need, some providers are failing to deliver the necessary quality in provision or services to protect vulnerable people and further steps are needed to root them out.

The exempt accommodation sector provides a home to hundreds of thousands of often high-need individuals, which include among others: domestic abuse survivors, those recovering from alcohol and drug addiction, former rough sleepers, care leavers, and asylum seekers and refugees.

Too many of these people are living in cramped and often dangerous housing without the necessary support that should be expected, and often to which they were promised. Individuals from these groups are often housed together inappropriately, further endangering their recovery and in some instances has led to violent and crime ensuing. This is further marred by a lack of transparency and regulation which has enabled some exploitative providers to profiteer.

The ongoing rise and spread in the number of exempt accommodation schemes across the country has been described by experts as a “gold rush”, as providers and agents seek to capitalise on the loopholes whilst they can.

Last year, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee launched an inquiry in exempt accommodation following mounting research into the issues surrounding the sector and increasing pressure from leading organisations including Commonweal Housing, which commissioned the groundbreaking report Exempt from 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 nationally has increased significantly, with the number in Birmingham alone doubling from 11,000 to 22,000.

The government has made positive signals of its intentions to reform and regulate the exempt accommodation sector, including the launch of five pilot programmes across Birmingham, Bristol, Blackpool, Blackburn and Hull.

However, the housing sector and local government do not feel the pace of action has met the urgency, and hope that this letter will encourage the government to legislate.

The letter calls on the Government to provide local authorities with sustained funding to support services that meet local needs, ending the injustice of exempt claimants having to pay for the costs of support services that are ineligible for Housing Benefit; and oversee the closure of loopholes that grant the opportunity to exploit the system.

  • It also says the Regulator of Social Housing role must be ramped up more proactively act in this area where Registered Providers are involved, and councils must be empowered to make more decisions regarding their local areas.

Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive at Commonweal Housing, said: “For too long, exempt accommodation has operated below the Government’s radar, slowly creating a quiet crisis. Insufficient regulation has enabled some landlords to financially game the system, often at the expense of the vulnerable individuals that it was designed to support.

“Exempt accommodation needs a top-to-bottom review and Government must enact comprehensive reforms to ensure a safe and sustainable future for the sector. I thank colleagues across the sector and in local government for their support of our message and know that together, we can deliver good quality housing and support services that puts vulnerable people above profits.”