1. It is of course accepted that there are still many providers, if not the vast majority, who provide an excellent service to their residents by maintaining a high standard of accommodation and providing good quality support. However, in this part of our ongoing series on exempt accommodation and the recent LUHCC Report, we will look at what the Committee found was happening ‘on the ground’ in some exempt accommodation schemes that were examined by them.

What residents say

  1. As part of their inquiry, the Committee considered numerous testimonies in evidence and met with residents at a number of schemes in England, including within Birmingham. Sadly, they discovered that those whose experience of living in exempt accommodation was positive were far outweighed by those who had experienced terrible conditions and a shocking lack of support or care.

  2. Some of the worst experiences they heard were of residents who had been made the victims of terrible crimes, including, at times, at the hands of the staff who worked in the scheme. They heard stories of assaults, rape, being forced to work for a landlord to improve the property without being paid, threatening behaviour from other residents with no action being taken and being housed inappropriately.

  3. Some residents complained that the quality of their housing was extremely poor. They described properties being cramped, dirty, damp and potentially unsafe in a fire. Hull City Council alone found several significant hazards per property in the places they inspected between April 2019 and January 2022, with 62% of inspected properties failing to meet the decent homes standard. Many residents complained of rooms that were far too small where a provider was clearly seeking to maximise profit with little regard to the comfort or well being of their residents.

  4. The Committee also received complaints from domestic abuse survivors who were inappropriately housed, for example, women fleeing domestic violence were being housed alongside men who had committed sexual crimes or, in some cases, were perpetrators of domestic violence themselves. Concern was expressed that lately there has been a growth of non-specialist providers who target survivors of domestic abuse but do not have the necessary expertise or experience to support them.

  5. Residents also complained of their concern of being vulnerable to eviction when they seek to gain employment which often reduces, or even eliminates, their access to some of the enhanced housing benefit.

  6. Unfortunately, it was extremely difficult for the Committee to ascertain the true scale of the problems being experienced up and down the country within exempt accommodation schemes due to the lack of national data. However, Matt Downie, Chief Executive of Crisis, told the Committee that, in his experienced opinion:

    “We can be certain that thousands, and maybe tens of thousands, of people across the country are living under appalling and shocking living standards

The neighbourhood problem

  1. We all want to live in pleasant,quiet and safe neighbourhoods.Sadly,the current crisis with the standard of exempt supported accommodation is having a knock- on effect to many of the neighbourhoods in which they are located. The Committee heard complaints of littering, rubbish piling up and pouring over the streets encouraging the spread of vermin and cockroaches, noise from parties, fights and quarrels, drug taking, public urination and, in one area, prostitution. These types of problems were greater where exempt properties were clustered together in the same area. For example, the West Midlands Police reported receiving 18 calls in one month alone from just one road with a high concentration of exempt accommodation.

  2. In addition to the anti-social problems noted above, some neighbourhood groups complained that there was a loss of much needed family housing because too many providers were leasing or buying up properties to provide exempt accommodation. In the Midlands alone, think tank Centre for the New Midlands reported that since 2014 over 5,000 homes have been converted from family homes to exempt accommodation.

  3. The overall impact that all of these types of problems are making in a community was shockingly summarised by the Handsworth Helping Hands group:

    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 need for change

  1. Clearly, the need for urgent and effective change to the exempt accommodation system is a priority for the Government. The Committee received overwhelming evidence that too many rogue providers are ruthlessly benefitting from a system that is currently open to abuse.

  2. We can therefore expect significant changes to be made to ensure that this abuse comes to an end for the good of the vulnerable adults who should be supported and cared for, the exempt accommodation neighbourhoods who have the right to live in peaceful and safe communities and the taxpayer who should rightly expect that their money is being used for the purpose for which it is intended.

MR Associates - March 2023