Thousands of people living in ‘exempt’ subsidized housing in Birmingham are being referred from other parts of the country. Some occupy rooms advertised on social networks.
Estimates from the council’s own local needs assessment show that around 9,000 exempt rooms are needed to house people with local connections who need support and care – but there are currently over 21,000 rooms occupied at Birmingham. The information was part of counsel’s evidence at a national inquest.
This suggests that many are inhabited by people who are referred from out of town or who moved in after responding to advertisements for cheap rooms. Guy Chaundy, Head of Housing Strategy for Birmingham City Council, spoke about the challenges during a live select committee session hosted by the Leveling Up, Housing and Communities Committee today.
Read more: Live updates from the exempt housing survey
He said a snapshot taken over a four-month period by the council found that more than 120 separate organizations were referring tenants to exempt properties in the city – and 43 of those organizations were outside the city.
He also said that these outside organizations – including other councils, prisons and probation services and charities – “are not required to inform us of the guidance, quality of provision and care the tenant is receiving. needs, or anything else”.
He was testifying at a parliamentary select committee inquiry into exempt subsidized housing, a housing industry that has boomed across the city. More than 21,000 people are currently housed in more than 8,000 exempt properties, making the city a “national hotspot”.
He said it was not possible to identify where each claimant came from. But Cllr Sharon Thompson said it was clear the city was not just providing accommodation and support to people with local connections.
She added that she had also seen adverts on Gumtree, Facebook and other sites advertising rooms for rent in Birmingham under the ‘exempt’ provisions, which people could sign up for. “You shouldn’t be able to do it online so easily.”
The council’s Supported Housing Needs Assessment, dated 2021, ‘believes there is a mismatch between the supported housing needed locally and the existing supply’. They estimate that around “42% of the current supply meets local needs”.
Exempt housing is a type of uncommissioned and unregulated supported housing that is funded by a higher rate of housing benefit.
People entitled to an enhanced housing allowance to pay for their accommodation include those who have no other housing options, such as people leaving prison, the homeless, refugee and migrant groups, people struggling with substance abuse issues or at risk of becoming homeless.
Enhanced benefits are paid by the Department for Work and Pensions, via the local council.
In Birmingham, over 4,000 properties are registered for exempt disposal, with over 20,000 rooms provided.
The exempt sector is vital for many, but properties tend to be concentrated in certain parts of the city, with strong evidence of an impact on crime, anti-social behavior and environmental issues.
Many rooms are filled with people unconnected to the city, who either get referred here or refer themselves from other parts of the country due to a lack of other options.
Landlords can get much more for a room rented under these rules than a regular tenant.
Exempt tenants must also pay an additional amount for support and care during their stay. It should be a stepping stone to a more permanent and fully independent life, but support and care must be “no more than minimal” to meet regulations – a vague definition open to exploitation.
Police and care agencies fear the sector is poorly regulated with minimal oversight, meaning poor providers can exploit loopholes for unreasonable profit, and with the risk of criminal influence.
The majority are met by regional and national needs for supported housing, or fill gaps in the supply of affordable housing or other local needs.
The assessment showed that less than 9,000 accommodation units are needed for local groups of vulnerable people identified in the Government’s National Statement of Expectations who need ‘exempt’ accommodation, including young people (including care leavers), offenders and people with experience of crime. justice system, those with mental health issues, learning disabilities or physical disabilities, homeless people in need of support, survivors of domestic violence and those with substance abuse issues.
Even on the basis of population growth, the current level of benefit is not necessary. Approximately 4,000 rooms are needed for single homeless people requiring low levels of support and those with mental health needs. Another 1,500 rooms were needed for young people, around 1,355 for victims of domestic violence and around 800 for offenders. A small number of additional rooms would be needed for refugees in need of transitional accommodation.
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