Report raises concerns for thousands of vulnerable people living in ‘unregulated’ housing

An estimated 11,000 vulnerable people in Birmingham alone are living in potentially unsafe and unsuitable conditions, according to new research published today. Nationwide, tens of thousands more vulnerable people will be living in this accommodation.

Exempt from Responsibility? reveals an ‘accountability deficit’ in non-commissioned exempt accommodation, which it defines as accommodation which is not commissioned by the local authority but is paid for using exempt provisions of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit regulations meaning landlords can access higher rent levels. The report focusses predominantly on shared units run by lease-based Registered Providers.

The report finds this accommodation has been left largely unmonitored and effectively ‘unregulated’ by Government. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) requires providers to meet only a loose requirement to provide ‘care, support, or supervision’ to its clients, and much of this accommodation is outside local authority licencing controls.

The research, published by Spring Housing Association, the Housing and Communities Research Group at the University of Birmingham, and the charity Commonweal Housing is based on analysis of Freedom of Information Requests, alongside interviews, focus groups and workshops with residents and providers.

It identified a system where landlords can claim high rents with little accountability. This can lead to costly and unsafe environments in which residents receive support that is either too high or too low for their support needs. A lack of alternative accommodation means many are at ‘crisis point’ when they access this accommodation, and can be forced to accept unsuitable and expensive housing.

Vulnerable groups are more likely to be housed in this accommodation, including people fleeing abusive relationships, refugees and migrants, care leavers, rough sleepers, people facing mental health problems or substance misuse, and those in contact with the criminal justice system.

Many residents face barriers to employment as the higher rent levels charged become unaffordable for many when they find low paid, insecure work.

The report comes more than a year after the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) and the DWP announced plans for a ‘sound and robust oversight regime’ for supported housing.

The report calls for the oversight regime to address the ‘accountability deficit’, including by strengthening criteria in the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Regulations, and giving stronger powers to the Regulator of Social Housing.

Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing, says:

“Through support for this research Commonweal hopes to shine a light on a system that is absolutely meeting the immediate needs of some, but is causing real harm for too many others.

“Everyone accommodated in this sector is in need of a home. But this necessity should not lead to accepting poverty of standards, poverty of management or poverty of aspirations and opportunities.

“This report is a call for better information, regulation and scrutiny to ensure that ‘exempt’ housing is a legitimate and safe option for everyone who needs it. National and local Government must heed its recommendations, and address the accountability deficit in this sector once and for all.”

Dominic Bradley, Group Chief Executive of Spring Housing Association says:

“Whilst the issues within non-commissioned exempt accommodation are by no means limited to Birmingham, we have engaged closely with residents, providers and practitioners in the locality to bring a ‘human face’ to a national system that is all too often leaving our most vulnerable on the margins.

“We firmly believe there is a place, and a need, for non-commissioned exempt accommodation. At its best, it acts as a true enabler to a safer and more independent life for our most vulnerable groups. However, at its worst, it is where ’hidden’ homelessness manifests itself most sharply; in precarious housing conditions without appropriate services, support or security.

“We hope that this work continues to illustrate the need for more transparency, regulation and accountability and we will keep working with our partners at local and national level to ensure this sector does not cause harm to those it is intended to help.”

To read the full reports please click here:


Notes to editors

About the research
This research is a partnership project led by Thea Raisbeck, and commissioned by Commonweal Housing. Spring Housing Association are the lead organisation for this project.

The field research took place between January and May 2019 and involved in-depth interviews, focus groups, round table events and workshops with over 100 individuals involved in the sector. This included interviews and focus groups with 25 current residents of non-commissioned exempt accommodation.

Statistical estimates of the number of individuals housed in this sector were based on analysis of Freedom of Information requests for exempt claims from 7 major cities at December 2018, cross referenced with local intelligence from Birmingham City Council.

About Commonweal Housing:
Established in 2006, Commonweal Housing is an independent award-winning charity working to investigate, pilot and champion housing-based solutions to social injustice. By using charitable resources Commonweal Housing provide experts and partner organisations the opportunity to trial and test new approaches designed to enhance housing equality and justice. Commonweal Housing has worked with partners such as Housing for Women, Praxis Community Projects, Thames Reach, St Mungo’s and Stonewall Housing.

About Spring Housing Association:
Spring Housing Association is a housing charity based in Birmingham. It was set up to go back the original ethos of the social housing movement to assist those most in housing need.  Tenants are supported by Spring to sustain their tenancies; this includes benefits and money management advice, and signposting into additional support services and employment and training schemes.

About the Housing and Communities Research Group:
The Housing and Communities Group, led by Professor David Mullins, is part of the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham. It comprises seven research staff and fellows and four PhD students, and has six current research projects, mainly focused on community-led housing and the community investment role of housing associations.

About the author:
Thea Raisbeck is the Research and Best Practice Lead at Spring Housing Association and an Honorary Research Fellow within the Housing and Communities Research Group at the University of Birmingham.