The rapid growth in exempt accommodation is highlighted as a particular concern in our recent report “More than a Roof”. In this blog Alana Raybould outlines the work of one Fulfilling Lives partnership to address the issue. Alana is the Network and Quality Manager at BVSC, the lead organisation for Birmingham Changing Futures Together (BCFT). As part of her role she manages the No Wrong Door Network and Quality Standards.

As the lead organisation for BCFT, BVSC work to tackle social challenges that cannot be addressed by a single organisation. Where we encounter an issue that relates to one of the areas of multiple disadvantage, we engage in an in-depth piece of work to explore and improve the situation for service users. One of these issues is non-commissioned Exempt Accommodation.

Exempt Accommodation offers landlords access to higher rents in return for providing additional support. The lack of an accepted definition of what constitutes ‘additional support’ has led to varying levels of provision. This accommodation is often used for people with few other housing options, including those experiencing multiple disadvantage. Accommodation for people with additional support needs is in high demand, but a lack of regulation can, in some situations, mean that the accommodation is poor and offers inadequate support. Tenants finding themselves in these types of accommodation have described little to no support, being placed in rooms with no locks, witnessing violence, drug use and inappropriate mixing (e.g. people who have experienced domestic abuse being placed with perpetrators).

When support needs are routinely unmet, people feel unsafe in their home. This makes it difficult for them to implement the changes needed to make improvements to their life. Where this is widespread, it can make an area really challenging to live in. There are non-commissioned providers that are offering a good level of accommodation, but they often get overshadowed by the inevitable focus on unscrupulous landlords.

There had already been learning from the success of BCFT’s earlier Exempt Accommodation project. Using this information, we worked with providers to produce the Exempt Accommodation Quality Standards. These were then adopted as part of Birmingham City Council’s Exempt Accommodation Pilot. The aim of the Quality Standards is to improve the quality of the support available in Birmingham and to showcase good accommodation. This will offer transparency to services referring, and to individuals accessing accommodation. As a result, people facing multiple disadvantage in the future will be provided with housing that better supports them to lead a fulfilled life.

Within Birmingham over 40 providers have signed up to the Quality Standards and we are continuing to see more providers engage. We already have referral agencies in Birmingham that have agreed only to refer to providers who have signed up to the standards. Our focus is to get all providers in Birmingham to sign up and be a part of the positive change that is needed in this sector.

In addition, pressure from local leaders supportive of the development of the Quality Standards has led to the government’s commitment to the reform of supported housing. This includes:

  • Minimum standards for the support provided to residents
  • New powers for local authorities in England to better manage their local supported housing market
  • Changes to Housing Benefit regulations to seek to define care, support and supervision

This all amounts to a major change in the way exempt accommodation will work, hopefully leading to improved accommodation and support. Whilst this is welcome there is a long road ahead. However, I am very pleased and proud that we have played a small but important part in making a positive change for individuals facing multiple disadvantage.

To read more about the quality standards follow this link: www.bvsc.org/quality-standards

Listen to the recent Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee on Exempt Accommodation here:https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/eecd509b-c65d-4232-b2ef-51611585bf7e?in=17:04:42

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