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.
- 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- Increased demand for exempt accommodation – combined with the funding model for supported housing, outdated Housing Benefit regulations, a lack of local oversight and planning powers and a weak national regulatory framework – have created the conditions for a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.
Supported Housing Advisory Panel
- The Secretary of State will be required to appoint an Advisory Panel.
- The panel will represent the interests of certain stakeholders including registered providers; local housing authorities; social services authorities and residents.
- The purpose of the panel is to provide information and advice on issues related to supported exempt accommodation, including anything which the Panel views could have a significant impact on the provision or regulation of supported exempt accommodation.
LGA view on Clause 1
Councils want to ensure that all residents living in supported accommodation have the security of a safe and well-maintained home, and that they are provided with good quality, personalised support. Therefore, an Advisory Panel, which allows the sector, including residents, to proactively inform the Secretary of State and other bodies on a range of issues in relation to supported exempt accommodation is a welcome step. It is good that the panel will comprise of a range of stakeholders in the sector, and we believe this measure will enable residents to better hold their supported housing provider to account.
We want to work with the Government to ensure that the panel is a success and to assist with developing a terms of reference.
It is vital that the membership comprises a diverse range of councils to ensure that issues across the sector are represented.
To enable the Advisory Panel to be as effective as possible, consideration should be given to including them as one of the bodies identified in Clause10 (3) in relation to the sharing of information on supported exempt accommodation.
Local Supported Housing Strategies
- There will be a new duty on local housing authorities to carry out a review of the supported exempt accommodation in their districts and, in light of that review, publish a “supported housing strategy” for the provision of supported exempt accommodation. A supported housing strategy must include a local housing authority’s assessment of the current availability of supported exempt accommodation in its district, the likely need for supported exempt accommodation in its district and such other matters as may be specified by the Secretary of State in regulations.
LGA view on Clause 2
Exempt accommodation provision should be driven by local need. Most councils’ concerns about non-commissioned exempt accommodation would be addressed by establishing council control over all referrals into exempt accommodation supported housing in their area, for example through a single referral ‘hub’ involving county councils and district councils working closely together in two-tier areas.
This would enable councils to ensure that new provision is established to meet local need and would deal with issues such as preventing ‘self-referrals’ or providers giving a home to people from other council areas without sharing vital information.
Councils are already statutorily obliged to have a homelessness and rough sleeping strategy, and the Bill will require a separate supported housing strategy which may cover some of the same points.
We would welcome clarification on whether there will be a requirement for this new strategy to be produced as a separate document - this would be particularly burdensome in local authorities with small numbers of supported housing units in their area.
Consideration should be given to how a greater understanding of how existing processes can be used to assess exempt accommodation needs at a local level and through existing strategies, rather than the development of a whole new strategy and the associated requirements.
Any new requirements on local authorities will need to be appropriately funded in line with the new burdens doctrine. Even where new burdens funding is provided, there are likely to be challenges in terms of ensuring sufficient staffing, particularly given existing workforce challenges. We will want to work with government and the sector to understand the scale of these challenges and identify potential solutions.
We would welcome clarification on the required involvement of supported housing accommodation providers in the development of any strategy.
National Supported Housing Standards
- This will give the Secretary of State new powers to prepare and publish “National Supporting Housing Standards” for England.
- This will, in particular, set minimum standards in respect of the type or condition of premises used for the provision of supported exempt accommodation or the provision of care, support or supervision at supported exempt accommodation.
LGA view on Clause 3
We are broadly supportive of the principle of a set of National Supported Housing Standards. This will build on the work of the Government’s supported housing national statement of expectations which focused on the accommodation element of supported housing. Whilst the majority of supported housing providers demonstrate a high level of commitment and high standards, a set of national standards will help to drive up quality across the sector.
We look forward to working with the Government to develop the Standards to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose and deliver genuine improvement in the quality of accommodation and provision of care, support or supervision.
We would welcome clarity on whether the Standards will be specific to supported exempt accommodation or will apply more broadly to all supported housing providers.
An exempt accommodation provider can set up and largely operate outside of the regulatory framework with neither councils, the Care Quality Commission (unless social care is commissioned) nor the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) having sufficient oversight powers. This regulatory gap is a further incentive for the minority of providers who use exempt accommodation status to maximise income while delivering poor quality services for their residents.
The Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, currently working its way through Parliament aims to “facilitate a new, proactive approach to regulating social housing landlords on consumer issues such as safety, transparency and tenant engagement, with new enforcement to tackle failing landlords”. Given that many of the issues with current exempt accommodation arise from consumer issues such as the standard of the accommodation and support provided and the impact of poorly managed exempt accommodation on communities, we urge the Government to strengthen the Regulator’s role in relation to existing exempt accommodation as part of reforming the Regulator’s powers through the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill.
We consider that there should be a requirement for all exempt accommodation providers to become Registered Providers.
Clauses 4 and 5
- Clause 4 would give the Secretary of State power to make regulations requiring persons with control of, or managing supported exempt accommodation, to obtain and comply with a licence issued by the relevant local housing authority.
- Clause 5 sets out the range of issues which licensing regulations may cover, including: enforcement, consequences of non-compliance, exemptions and fees.
LGA view on Clauses 4 and 5
We welcome these measures as we have previously lobbied for the introduction of an accreditation or licensing scheme that is linked to a quality standards and is reflective of individual support needs. Exempt accommodation status would therefore be subject to council approval and conditional on good quality and meeting the individual’s support needs. This would provide reassurance for local communities and councils would have greater powers to manage new provision.
Any licensing or accreditation scheme should consider the capability and size of the provider and their portfolio so that it is not overly restrictive or costly to deliver whilst maintaining good quality provision.
New licensing provisions will also place an additional burden on local authorities. Whilst recognising that there are provisions in the Bill for fees to cover costs, there will be a need for initial set-up costs to be met by new burdens funding. We would welcome working with Government to develop a costed model for strengthened local oversight and enforcement, building on the work of the pilots, and the long-term savings it could achieve for councils and Government.
We would also welcome clarity on whether new licensing schemes would need to be signed off by the Secretary of State, as is implied by clauses 4(b) and (c) in the Bill. We consider that it should not be necessary to seek Secretary of State approval for licensing schemes.
- Places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult statutory consultees before exercising the power to make licensing regulations.
- The statutory consultees listed are: Local Government Association, National Housing Federation and the Regulator of Social Housing.
LGA view on Clause 6
We agree that there should be consultation on the detail of the new licensing provisions with timeframes that are proportionate and realistic to allow all stakeholders sufficient time to provide a considered response. We want to work with the government to understand the expectations of the Local Government Association as a formal statutory consultee.
- This places a duty on the Secretary of State to review the effect of licensing requirements within three years of regulations being made.
- Following such a review, the Secretary of State would be required to consider whether to specify exempt supported accommodation as a use-class which would require planning in certain circumstances.
LGA view on Clause 8
We consider that a requirement for planning permission for exempt supported accommodation would help to strengthen local oversight of new accommodation in an area.
This would also enable a local planning authority to take into account the need for supported exempt accommodation, as outlined in its supported housing strategy, in deciding whether to grant planning permission.
We would welcome clarification from government as to why exempted supported accommodation cannot be specified as a separate use-class now, alongside the other measures proposed in the Bill, to maximise local oversight of provision.
- This would ensure that where someone leaves exempted supported accommodation due to poor conditions or care, and the standards within the accommodation do not meet the National Supported Housing Standards, they will not be intentionally homeless.
LGA view on Clause 9
We support this measure which also aligns with upcoming renter’s reform proposals and homelessness legislation which seeks to ensure households are not penalised for reporting poor quality housing. However, there should be recognition that this could increase the pressure on local authority homelessness services in some areas, as they will have a duty to provide support to those households.