In the year 2022, we would expect that everyone should have the right to safe place to call home but with the housing crisis and chronic shortage of affordable housing, those who are the most marginalized in society often have the least choice.
Too many end up living in poorly managed, unsafe, shared housing funded through ‘exempt’ provisions of Housing Benefits. This type of housing is often used for people with very few other housing options such as rough sleepers, domestic abuse victims and other vulnerable parties.
This exemption from the usual caps on Local Housing Allowance means landlords can charge high rent that the government covers via Housing Benefit. The exempt accommodation rules were originally introduced in 1996 to protect charities and housing associations. The rules were brought in recognition of the increased costs associated with managing this type of housing, and as a result could be higher than the norm.
However charities such as Crisis has said the sector is dangerously under regulated and some providers are only motivated by money; loopholes in the system have enabled housing providers/ landlords to capitalise off this and charge upwards of £250 per week for one room, which is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions.
In 2019, the report ‘Exempt from Responsibility’ with Spring Housing Association and University of Birmingham launched an enquiry following research into the issues. In the three years since the report was published, the number of exempt accommodations nationally has increased significantly, with the number in Birmingham alone doubling from 11,000 to 22,000. A recent report by Prospect housing showed nearly £1bn of public money was being spent on exempt accommodation.
While the Government have made positive signals of its intentions to regulate this, the housing sector and local Government do not feel the pace of action has met the urgency.
There has been significant concern that while many providers are trying to do a good job, many are failing to deliver the necessary services to protect people, further steps need to be taken. Local authority staff need a high level of expertise to challenge inappropriate claims, and while some councils have invested in this, such a Bristol City Council, this is not universal.
More than 40 leading housing charities, frontline organisations and local authorities have called on the Government to clean up except accommodation. An open letter has been sent to the Secretaries of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and Work and Pensions.
The letter asks for the introduction of measures to care, support and supervise the system to ensure properties meet a certain quality. It asks the Government to provide local authorities with funding for this service so that the vulnerable claimants of exempt accommodation don’t have to pay for the costs of support services that are ineligible for Housing Benefit. They also ask for the closure of loopholes that grant landlords the opportunity to exploit the system.