The government must put in place a “clearly defined and resourced regulatory regime” to ensure that thousands of people living in exempt accommodation are not exploited by their landlords, a Birmingham MP has warned.
Shabana Mahmood, Birmingham Ladywood MP
The government must put in place a “clearly defined and resourced regulatory regime” to ensure that thousands of people living in exempt accommodation are not exploited by their landlords, a Birmingham MP has warned #UKhousing
Shabana Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Ladywood, told Inside Housing that many tenants living in the exempt sector are being exploited and that community cohesion is being weakened because of a “reckless lack of regulation of the exempt accommodation sector”.
She urged the government to give it “urgent attention” before it grows to even more dangerous levels.
Exempt accommodation refers to a category of supported housing that is not commissioned under local authorities’ homelessness services or social care funding, but instead is funded directly by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Due to landlords providing loosely defined “care and support” services, they are exempt from housing benefit restrictions and as a result can charge much higher rents than normal social landlords.
It is often used as a means of housing those with no other housing options such as prison leavers, rough sleepers, refugee and migrant groups, and those experiencing substance abuse issues.
While many exempt accommodation landlords provide crucial housing and support to vulnerable people, there are concerns that the level of support from some providers is inadequate and has left many in poor housing conditions.
Birmingham has the largest number of exempt accommodation beds in the country, with an estimated 14,000 exempt accommodation properties across the city. Mr Mahmood’s Ladywood constituency is one of the areas in the city with the highest number of these properties.
She said: “We cannot continue in a situation where over 14,000 publicly supported properties in the city are being left to operate with little or no oversight from the UK government or local authorities.”
Despite a number of the exempt accommodation providers being registered with the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH), there are concerns that the RSH’s current powers can do little to ensure that the quality of housing for those living in exempt properties is adequate.
Last year a report published by Commonweal Housing said that there is an “accountability deficit” in the exempt accommodation sector, and identified the RSH’s inability to take action over consumer standards such as safety issues and resident satisfaction as key reason for that.
Ms Mahmood said: “It is clear that the social housing regulator neither has the remit nor the resources required to oversee properties which fall within this sector – and this is letting down some of the most vulnerable local residents.
“The government must give this issue the urgent attention this ballooning and potentially dangerous situation warrants.”
She wrote to housing secretary Robert Jenrick in July calling on him to reform the regulator and give it more oversight of exempt accommodation properties and powers to take action on poor conditions.
The RSH has downgraded a number of known exempt accommodation providers in recent years, with some being deemed non-compliant for governance and viability.
Jonathan Walters, deputy chief executive of the RSH, previously told Inside Housing that the RSH had blocked organisations seeking to provide “exempt accommodation” from registering as housing associations.
He said some organisations that provide this type of accommodation were not eligible “because rents tend to be at, or above, market rental rates”.
An MHCLG Spokesperson said: “We are clear that all supported housing must be of good quality, meet the needs of the vulnerable people it supports, and represent value for money for the taxpayer.
“We are working closely with councils and relevant partners to develop a range of measures to help ensure that oversight is strengthened.”