Exempt accommodation – the price of marketisation of social welfare

Liz Zacharias, Director at Campbell Tickell, shares her thoughts on The Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Select Committee’s new report on exempt accommodation. 

The Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Select Committee’s new report on exempt accommodation makes depressing reading – and illustrates what happens when the provision of welfare services is left to the market as the prevalent response to addressing social issues.

While the committee does its best to make sensible recommendations, the most appalling aspect of the report are the quotes from senior interviewees who seem to think that the issue is all down to councils to deal with, while government has no part in protecting vulnerable people from exploitation and physical harm.

Stripped down budget for supported housing

 

Back in 2010, there was around £1.8bn being spent on supported housing, funded as part of government grant to local authorities. Supporting People (SP) funding was created because Housing Benefit (HB) was not supposed to pay for support. SP brought with it:

  • An accreditation system for all providers;
  • A quality Assurance Framework with four levels of compliance to support continuous improvement;
  • A requirement to produce five year supported housing strategies;
  • Value for money benchmarks and assessments;
  • Specific funding for local authorities to commission and contract manage supported housing in their area.

Over the past 12 years, the £1.8bn budget has been stripped down to about £400m today. This is partly as a result of austerity cuts to local authority budgets and partly because of pressures in social care where much of the supported housing commissioning sat. The priority has been to meet statutory duties around care rather than support needs of vulnerable people (a non-statutory requirement).

The consequences of exempt accommodation funding support

 

The Select Committee report states that around £2bn is now being spent on exempt accommodation paid via the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) and local authorities as HB. Although exempt accommodation is not supposed to fund support, it is the only option where there is no recognition of the need for properly funded support for some people to live independently. The consequences of this are:

  • Vast profits made by some lease-based providers;
  • The degradation of local communities where the high concentration of exempt accommodation and the low level of support and inadequate management of schemes is leading to anti-social behaviour and worse;
  • Vulnerable people being housed by some unscrupulous organisations and being mistreated.

The housing market is distorted to the extent that the lack of affordable and social housing is compounded by family accommodation being turned into Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) for exempt accommodation. Increasingly local authorities have to place homeless households in  a B&B or transfer them all over the country because in their areas it is more profitable for landlords to use housing for exempt accommodation than as temporary accommodation for homeless households.

What has happened to supported housing over the past 12 or so years is an object lesson in the so-called ‘benefits’ of the market over the proper functioning (and funding) of the state.

Bob Blackman MP’s private members bill  The Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill which is now at its second reading – does make some attempt to quickly address the issues, by proposing a definition of ‘care support and supervision’, quality standards, and a system of licencing provision in certain zones (like HMP licencing) – this will hopefully, if it passes address some of the worst excesses, however it does not go far enough in creating a framework for the safe delivery of supported housing through this route.’

Here are extracts from the Select Committee report.

“It was a large place managed by what could possibly be called gangsters, who would scare tenants at various times for various reasons, often for no reason. They were sometimes drunk and they were untrained for their roles. They were abusive, intimidating and preyed on the vulnerable. …There was theft, fighting, bullying, prostitution. There was a support worker who was young and would like to have helped but didn’t have support from other colleagues and [had] very little knowledge of his role….”

“Neighbours become overburdened with appeals for help from the vulnerable in their midst—requests for food, cigarettes, money, the use of their phones. They get tired of calling ambulances for people collapsed on the pavement, seeing drugs traded openly in the street, are vexed by pilfering of anything left in their front gardens, having their car doors tried, seeing police cars parked in their street, being kept awake by loud music late at night, or annoyed by it on summer afternoons. They despair at seeing bulky objects dumped in streets, at having to pick up rubbish spilling onto the pavement from over-filled bins, at bins being left unemptied by Fleet and Waste when recycling and household waste have been mixed. They become suspicious of strangers and worry about the safety of their children going to and from school or playing in the streets.”

“The then Minister for Welfare Delivery was impervious to the suggestion that housing benefit regulations can trap people in unemployment and in transitional housing arrangements. He argued that “[t]he way that the housing benefit is structured is that you will always be better off in work than not working at all.”

Is this really the best we can do to support vulnerable and homeless people?

To discuss this article, contact Liz Zacharias : liz.zacharias@campbelltickell.com

Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. At CT, we want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

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