Exempt from Responsibility? Addressing social inequalities in the exempt accommodation sector

By Dominic Bradley

Spiralised stairwell. Image by Public Co from Pixabay

The term ‘Supported Accommodation’ or “Exempt Accommodation” is generally used to refer to properties in which the tenant receives ‘care, support or supervision’ for the purpose of assisting them with their day-to-day living. The key part of this for Housing Benefit purposes is ‘support’, and the tenant should not be living in supported accommodation if the support provided is not needed. 

In 2017, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced that it would be reviewing the way in which Supported Housing provision is funded. The reason behind the review was the Government’s perception that the current system is not transparent; does not provide sufficient assurances to tax payers around value for money, and that the quality of some provision is substandard, failing some of those who access it.

The consultation closed in January 2018 and an interim response to the consultation and summary of the responses received was published in April 2018. In summary it stated that the key message from Supported Accommodation providers, and some Local Authorities (LAs) was that funding should remain in the welfare system i.e. via Housing Benefit, it must be said after significant push-back from the sector, Spring was definitely in a minority in supporting increased regularly oversight , which was a bridge too far for many.

The full findings¹ from the national 2017 consultation were published in August 2018 along with confirmation that MHCLG would not seek to change the funding streams for Supported Accommodation, i.e.- this provision would continue to be funded via Housing Benefit for the foreseeable future. However, the MHCLG stated that it is still committed to delivering oversight of quality and achieving value for money in this sector by working with providers, Local Authorities and others to develop a robust oversight regime, underpinned by the draft ‘National Statement of Expectation’ published as part of the consultation launched in October 2017 ¹. 

It has long been our view that there are serious shortfalls in what is essentially an unregulated sector working with some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Its what the report’s author deems accountability deficits. The report and accompanying research lays out these issues in more detail.

Many of these ‘invisible’ people are currently hidden in unregulated, non-commissioned exempt accommodation. A report published by Spring Housing Association and the Housing and Communities Research Group at the University of Birmingham – supported by Commonweal Housing – highlights the accountability deficits and the social inequalities of this sector in its most raw form.

The report finds that the non-commissioned exempt accommodation sector is broadly ‘unregulated’ by national and local Government oversight – but this isn’t about “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. We believe that non-commissioned exempt accommodation has a really important part to play in housing some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We hope the report helps to foster a learning partnership that aims to drive up standards and puts residents and tenants’ voices at the heart of the conversation.

We want to do this by focussing on what works – creating lasting change through evidence-based practice. We understand that this is a big ask, but we fundamentally believe the recommendations contained within the report are achievable, measurable and sustainable.

This part of the homelessness field is less well known than most. However, we believe that there are accountability deficits which are not catered for within housing benefit regulations, resulting in no meaningful oversight on the services provided to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Some of our best innovation in supported housing is in the non-commissioned sector.  Think of the domestic abuse refuges creating safety and saving lives; or the homeless housing plus centres.  Look also to the NHS Long Term Plan, with the closure of long-stay hospitals and institutions and the creation of alternative supported living services. These are all examples of non-commissioned accommodation at its innovative best; supported by housing benefit and acting as a true enabler.

For non-commissioned exempt accommodation to play a key role in addressing social injustice, we need to push for significant reform. Shifting emphasis in government policy, strengthening existing regulation and, I believe, tackling the ethical issues around service delivery and practice are key areas for change.

Over £1.72 billion is spent on housing benefit for people of working age, equating to £9,000 per person, per year. That is a huge public investment, and our report has outlined how, without meaningful oversight, this investment can far too easily harm the people it is intended to help.

We hope our work on this complex, lesser-known sector has opened up a wider question about the type of society we want to be, and whether we are willing to be honest, constructive and bold about what we need to do to change a system that has too often left people who should be at its centre on the margins.

To read the full reports please click here: https://springhousing.org.uk/about-us/publications/

About the Author

Dominic Bradley, is the Group CEO & Company Secretary of Spring Housing

Dominic had 11 fulfilling years at Trident Housing Association and latterly Trident Reach where he had lead responsibilities for all of the charity’s care & support and social enterprise activities. By the time he left Reach it had a turnover of £15 million, over 740 employees, and over 40 contracts in 9 different local authority regions.

Dominic also led on development for the Trident Group as part of the Matrix partnership, which included major construction and delivery projects – standout ones being Oakland Village, a £22 million extra-care scheme in Swadlincote in partnership with Derbyshire County Council and Derbyshire’s District Councils, and a Youth Offending new build project in Birmingham, as well as several care & support housing projects. After leaving Reach he had 18 months in the private sector before co-founding Spring to achieve a longstanding ambition to have a company that goes back to the original ethos of the housing movement and housing those in most need. 

Dominic is also a founding board member of the charity Reconnected which connects homeless people with private sector skills in employment, training, and housing. Dominic is also Chair of Governors at Holyhead Secondary School in Handsworth, Birmingham and Vice Chair at Birmingham Rathbone which works with people with a learning disability helping them to access support, training and employment. Dominic is also a fellow for The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce a, British organisation committed to finding practical solutions to social challenges

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