Levelling up committee calls system of exempt accommodation in England “a complete mess” 

MPs have urged the government to publish national standards within the next year for supported accommodation in England that is exempt from housing benefit caps. 

Clive Betts MP

Clive Betts: the support on offer is often little more than a loaf of bread on the table

The system of exempt accommodation in England is a “complete mess” and some residents’ experiences are “beyond disgraceful”, a report released by the levelling up, housing and communities committee has said today. 

Local authorities should have the power and resources to enforce the standards, the report stated, and be given “new burdens funding” to ensure they can carry out these new duties. 

The MPs found: “In the worst instances the system involves the exploitation of vulnerable people who should be receiving support, while unscrupulous providers make excessive profits by capitalising on loopholes.” They added: “This gold-rush is all paid for by taxpayers through housing benefit.”

Exempt accommodation is supported housing, often used for marginalised groups, such as prison and care leavers, those fleeing domestic advice, and homeless people with substance issues. It is set by the provider and paid for by the residents’ housing benefit. The accommodation is exempt from locally set caps on housing benefit because it is more expensive than general needs tenancies, because the residents need support. 

But Clive Betts, chair of the committee, noted: “The support on offer is sometimes little more than a loaf of bread left on a table or a support worker shouting at the bottom of the stairs to check on residents”. 

It also noted that as the accommodation could attract anti-social behaviour and crime it could also affect the nearby neighbours and communities. “These impacts risk undermining local support for supported housing”, the committee concluded. 

The MPs said in the case of domestic abuse “there must be a requirement that housing benefit is only paid to providers that have recognised expertise and meet the standards in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021”. Councils have a duty to commission safe support for domestic abuse victims under the act. 

The committee also said that councils should ensure providers are helping residents progress to independence and employment, and an accreditation scheme for providers, implemented on a graded basis, should be considered. An accreditation scheme would allow local authorities to assess the quality of provision in their area so poorer quality providers to improve, it suggested.