Exempt accommodation

We examine some of the key issues with exempt accommodation


Image: Istock

Liz Zacharias

Director, Campbell Tickell

Exempt accommodation scandals and debates, it seems, are never far from the housing headlines and increasingly the national press headlines.

This form of housing has now gone into the ‘something must be done’ category of issues. Commonweal has done a fair amount of work in this area and recognises exempt accommodation has its place but needs to be controlled.

Campbell Tickell has endorsed its joint letter with the Local Government Association, calling on the government to take action.

Here, we set out our thinking on this area of supported housing.

Exempt accommodation has grown as a type of supported housing because of long-term cuts to local authority budgets, the demise of funding for housing-related support and the philosophy of marketisation of forms housing for vulnerable people.

“Exempt accommodation has grown as a type of supported housing because of long-term cuts to local authority budgets, the demise of funding for housing-related support and the philosophy of marketisation of forms housing for vulnerable people.”

Investment attracted

There is a lot of investment money looking for the relatively safe haven of government-backed payments – in this case through housing benefit. There is a chronic shortage of social housing and housing and support for vulnerable people. As a result, there are a number of ‘entrepreneurs’ who have seen the opportunity and seized it with both hands. There are people out to make a quick buck, and there are also people that are using whatever means are at their disposal to meet the housing and support needs of their clients.

We know commissioned providers supplement their contracts and economies of scale by adding exempt accommodation units to their portfolios – lower-support exempt accommodation can be a good step-down solution for some clients and for some organisations. Others continue to run schemes after they have lost a support contract by remodelling their services and using the exempt rules.

Commonweal Housing and the Local Government Association (LGA) have written a joint open letter urging the Government to tackle the cases of exploitation of the exempt system and work towards the provision of secure, appropriate, and good quality housing and support for vulnerable adults and young people. Find out more

“For too long, exempt accommodation has operated below the Government’s radar, slowly creating a quiet crisis. Insufficient regulation has enabled some landlords to financially game the system, often at the expense of the vulnerable individuals that it was designed to support.

“Exempt accommodation needs a top-to-bottom review and Government must enact comprehensive reforms to ensure a safe and sustainable future for the sector. I thank colleagues across the sector and in local government for their support of our message and know that together, we can deliver good-quality housing and support services that puts vulnerable people above profits.”

Ashley Horsey, chief executive, Commonweal Housing

Specialised Supported Housing

There is also a growing sector of housing for people with learning disabilities, autism, and severe mental illness. Some are exempt from the Regulator of Social Housing’s rent standards and qualify as exempt accommodation, because properties are classed as Specialised Supported Housing as defined by the government’s policy statement on rents for social housing (2020).

This type of housing, which may be lease-based, is a significant contributor to ensuring that people have access to independent living.

We also know that lease-based exempt accommodation can provide a good model of independent living, when it is combined with a care package. It is therefore important that any measures taken should not jeopardise this part of the market.

Housing quality problems

The problems with exempt accommodation have arisen because sub-standard housing is often used to house people who are vulnerable, and they are not provided with the right levels of support to succeed.

Too often the imperative is to harvest profits from inflated rents, not to meet the needs of people for whom there is unlikely to be any chance of buying or renting in the private sector.

However, the genie (whatever the genie was) is out of the bottle and is very difficult to put back in now. We will have to live with exempt accommodation as a type of housing for people who need a bit of support around their tenancy sustainment.

We don’t however have to live with all the examples of poor to non-existent support, nor sub-standard, poorly maintained housing.

Licensing scheme

One solution would be a robust licensing scheme operated by local authorities, with clear standards around the decency of the housing, the quality of the staff and the quality of the services as well as the safety (and safeguarding) of the residents to be provided. That way anyone who enters the market knows what they have to do to meet the standards and can be held to account for any failures to provide the support and standard of accommodation that is needed.

Any licensing scheme like this will require additional resources to run it effectively and protect people that are placed in such accommodation.

The question is whether the government has the will to take the action needed to address this growing problem.


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