As we highlighted to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, councils have been concerned for some time now that a minority of exempt accommodation providers operating across the country fall short in providing good quality, personalised support for people in vulnerable circumstances.
- The LGA broadly welcomes the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, which would make provision about the regulation of supported exempt accommodation; make provision about local authority oversight of, and enforcement powers relating to, the provision of supported exempt accommodation; and for connected purposes.
- As we highlighted to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, councils have been concerned for some time now that a minority of exempt accommodation providers operating across the country fall short in providing good quality, personalised support for people in vulnerable circumstances. This includes people who are homeless and need additional mental health or substance misuse support, people fleeing domestic abuse, prison leavers, care leavers and people leaving national asylum seeker services.
- Increased demand for exempt accommodation – combined with the funding model for supported housing, outdated Housing Benefit regulations, a lack of local oversight and planning powers and a weak national regulatory framework – have created the conditions for a minority of unscrupulous non-commissioned providers to take advantage of the higher rents that can be charged for exempt accommodation to maximise financial gain for private investors.
- This has a significant and detrimental impact on the lives of the people who live in poor-quality housing without the right level of support, and the wider community, as well as a cost to the public purse. Currently councils have very limited levers to control exempt accommodation quality and over-supply in their communities.
- The LGA wants to see a locally-led fully funded oversight and enforcement regime for exempt accommodation within a strengthened national regulatory framework. This should include a requirement for all exempt accommodation providers to be Registered Providers. This will ensure that councils’ responses can be tailored to the challenges they face and the contexts of local housing markets and demand.
- Most councils’ concerns about non-commissioned exempt accommodation could also be addressed by establishing council control over all referrals into exempt accommodation supported housing in their area.
- We welcome measures that would enable councils to introduce licensing schemes. We have previously lobbied for the introduction of an accreditation or licensing scheme that is linked to a quality standard and is reflective of individual support needs. The ability to introduce licensing schemes would mean that exempt accommodation status would be subject to council approval and conditional on good quality and meeting the individual’s support needs.
- We are pleased the Bill includes a section that will ensure that a person leaving supported exempted accommodation will not be treated as intentionally homelessness, where the reason for leaving relates to the standard of the accommodation or care, support or supervision provided, and the accommodation does not meet the National Supported Housing Standards. This also aligns with upcoming renter’s reform proposals and homelessness legislation which seeks to ensure households are not penalised for reporting poor quality housing.
- We do have some concerns about the potential capacity challenges for councils if new responsibilities are introduced as a result of the Bill. For instance, the requirement to produce a Local Supported Housing Strategy, the need to gather and share information, and licensing will count as new burdens and will need to be funded as such. We would welcome clarification on whether funding for this is included in the £20 million announced as a part of the Bill.
- Significant resource will need to be given to a licensing scheme and enforcement of new National Supported Housing Standards. Even where new burdens funding is provided, there may be challenges in terms of ensuring sufficient staffing, particularly given existing workforce challenges.
Amendment Gov 3 tabled by Felicity Buchan MP would ensure local housing authorities in England and social services authorities are named as consultees on the Bill.
The LGA supports this amendment. We are supportive of replacing references to the Local Government Association with local authorities in England as consultees on licensing regulations and the National Supported Housing Standards as this will ensure that local authorities, as main delivery partners, are primarily consulted with on elements they will be responsible for enforcing.
We would still be keen to work with colleagues across central government, local authorities and accommodation providers to support any future consultation work.