Exempt Housing Loopholes Could Soon Close
A Council that has been lobbying government to change how exempt accommodation is managed welcomes a Select Committee report, which recommends reform.
Over the last few years, West Devon Borough Council has been lobbying government to tackle the loopholes in the current exempt accommodation scheme.
Earlier this year the Leader of West Devon Borough Council, Cllr Neil Jory presented evidence to the government's Select Committee for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC). He explained some of the issues that the Council and its vulnerable residents were facing.
This week, after months of evidence and investigation, the Select Committee has issued a report calling on the government for change, labelling the current scheme a 'complete mess'.
Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council, and the Council's driving force behind the need for change, said: "I am delighted that the Select Committee thoroughly understood the issues that we highlighted to them.
"Their report today calls for change and is unreserved in its tone, demanding 'urgent' action. They have made several recommendations to government, which I am pleased to say would radically overhaul the current scheme.
"I am also pleased to see that in those recommendations, there are more powers given to councils like ours, to enable us to enforce minimum standards of accommodation. With these powers we can begin to protect the most vulnerable people who need housing with good quality care and support."
Exempt Accommodation is where the accommodation is provided by a landlord in the social or voluntary sector. A tenant in Exempt Accommodation is someone who is provided with care, support or supervision by the landlord or by someone acting on the landlord's behalf. This is paid for through the housing benefit system.
The Select Committee's report makes the following recommendations to government:
- Introduce compulsory national minimum standards for exempt accommodation, including on referrals, care & support, and quality of housing
- Give local councils the powers and resources to enforce these standards
- Require all exempt accommodation providers to be registered
- Create a National Oversight Committee to join-up existing regulators and mend the current 'patchwork regulation' which has too many holes
- Ensure the providers of exempt accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse have recognised expertise to provide specialist support and a safe environment
Review the system of exempt housing benefit claims and clamp down on the exploitation of the lease-based exempt accommodation model for profit .
Clive Betts, Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, said: "While there are many good providers of exempt accommodation, the findings of our inquiry on the state of exempt accommodation are shocking. The current system of exempt accommodation is a complete mess which lets down residents and local communities and which rips off the taxpayer. The Government must act now to help councils to tackle this situation and ensure people get the quality housing and support services they need to move on with their lives.
"The best examples of exempt accommodation highlight quality housing and specialist services, with proactive staff helping to support residents. However, in the worst cases support amounts to little more than a loaf of bread left on the table or a support worker shouting at the bottom of the stairs to check on residents.
"Residents and communities are being failed while unscrupulous providers make excessive profits by capitalising on loopholes in the system. Recently it has been reported in the media that these providers have included organised criminal gangs, who use the system to launder money. This gold-rush is all paid for by taxpayers through housing benefit. This must change and it is crucial the Government brings forward reform on a range of areas including on standards, regulation and oversight, and on funding to put this right. In our changes we are not asking for any additional expenditure; we are calling on the Government to get a grip on the vast sums it is paying out without effective oversight".