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What is exempt supported accommodation?

Supported accommodation is a broad term which describes a range of housing types, such as group homes, hostels, refuges, supported living complexes and sheltered housing. Exempt accommodation is supported housing which is exempt from certain Housing Benefit provisions which limit claimants’ entitlement to defined local levels. It is defined as:

  • a resettlement place; or
  • accommodation provided by a county council, housing association, registered charity or voluntary organisation where that body or person acting on their behalf provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.

Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, explains why an exempt system was created:

The exempt system was an acknowledgement that the costs of managing shared, supported housing could be higher than the norm, and that not for profit organisations’ supported housing services may be unviable if benefit levels were limited using the same rules that applied to mainstream private renting.

What are the issues?

There are concerns that the sector is under-regulated. According to Crisis, growth of exempt provision “is associated with investors looking to maximise returns using the higher rents permitted by the exempt Housing Benefit provisions.” It’s argued that some providers are putting profit before the needs of residents, resulting in poor housing conditions and ineffective care and support for vulnerable residents.

Residents living near to some units of exempt accommodation complain about its detrimental impact where vulnerable residents are not provided with adequate support.

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee (LUHC) described the system of exempt accommodation as “a complete mess” in a report published on 27 October 2022. It found good providers, but in the worst cases found evidence of “exploitation of vulnerable people” and landlords who are making “excessive profits” from high rents paid for by Housing Benefit.

Government action

  • On 20 October 2020, the Government published Supported housing: national statement of expectations setting out a vision for the planning, commissioning and delivery of supported housing for the first time.
  • Also in October 2020, five pilots were established in Birmingham, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bristol, and Hull to improve quality enforcement, oversight, and value for money in the sector. They focused on short-term, non-commissioned exempt supported accommodation. An independent evaluation of the pilots was published on 7 April 2022.
  • On 17 March 2022, then-Minister Eddie Hughes issued a written statement setting out Government plans for supported exempt housing. They included introducing minimum standards of support; changes to Housing Benefit regulations to clarify the definition of care, support and supervision; new powers for local authorities to better manage their local supported housing market and “ensure rogue landlords cannot exploit the system”. Legisation would be introduced when parliamentary time allows. Legisation would be introduced when parliamentary time allowed. The Government subsequently said it would support Bob Blackman’s Private Member’s Bill (see below).

What will the bill do?

Bob Blackman MP drew sixth place in the Private Members Bill ballot in May 2022 and introduced the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill on 15 June 2022. The bill and its explanatory notes were published on
14 November 2022
. The debate on second reading took place on 18 November 2022. The bill was considered in one committee session on 11 January 2023 – no amendments were made. Report and third reading stages took place on 3 March 2023. Three Government amendments to clauses 4, 5 and 6 were agreed on report.

Second reading in the House of Lords is scheduled to take place on 21 April 2023.

A Crisis briefing says the bill aims to “stop rogue operators from entering the market and ensure that action is taken against bad faith providers.” There’s reference to the bill creating parliamentary time “for the Government to act on its commitments.”

The bill would:

  • require local authorities in England to review supported housing in their areas and develop strategies;
  • provide for the creation of a national expert advisory panel to advise on matters related to supported housing;
  • give the Secretary of State power to introduce national support standards;
  • give local authorities power to create local licensing schemes for exempt accommodation; and
  • give the Secretary of State an option to introduce a new planning Use-Class for exempt accommodation.

The LUHC took oral evidence on the bill on 9 and 16 November 2022. Justin Bates of Landmark Chambers told the Committee the bill is aimed at solving as many of the issues identified in the Committee’s report as possible.

On 12 November 2022, the Secretary of State, Michael Gove said:

We are stepping in to help councils crack down on this appalling activity and I will be working closely with Bob Blackman MP on his Private Members’ Bill to deliver tough new laws to end this practice once and for all.

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