New laws are needed to end rogue landlords exploiting people living in exempt housing
The stories we hear from people forced to accept so-called supported exempt accommodation from rogue landlords are testament to the scale of change required.
In the worst cases, rogue operators are exploiting the system by targeting people who are amongst the most marginalised in our communities so they can claim the higher rates of housing benefit available where someone is deemed to need support. Residents who may have experienced the trauma of domestic abuse or sleeping rough are being subjected to appalling living conditions, with little to no support, trapping vulnerable tenants to generate significant income.
That’s why Bob Blackman’s Private Members Bill is so important. If passed, the Bill would give local authorities new powers to tackle poor practice in the supported exempt sector, while creating new strategic duties for national and local government to improve oversight of the sector.
Because of gaping loopholes in our regulatory system, rogue landlords are operating with impunity
This week sees the Bill reach another critical stage on its way to becoming law.
Because of gaping loopholes in our regulatory system, rogue landlords are operating with impunity, ignoring the best practice that guides reputable support providers.
Even where local authorities use all the enforcement and housing benefit powers available to them, they are still sometimes unable to prevent ill-intentioned operators from setting up. In England, we do not currently have an enforceable standards regime for supported housing or a dedicated funding stream for support. So, unless councils themselves have commissioned support services, there are limits to what they can do to ensure support services are adequate.
This Bill provides a real prospect of change – that’s why it’s critical to get it over the line and into law.
While the current situation has rightly been hugely criticised, Bob’s Bill means we have a real chance for reform. The Bill creates new powers that, if implemented, would enable councils to licence supported housing and could remove entitlement to higher rates of housing benefit from unlicensed landlords. Not only that, but the Bill also gives government the power to set up a new national supported housing standards regime with enforcement powers.
The good news is that politicians across the political spectrum are supporting the Bill, which passed its second reading unopposed and with government support in November 2022. We must continue to work together to seize this vital opportunity and make sure this Bill gets over the line.
We must then make sure the powers in the Bill are well implemented. Once the Bill becomes law, government would then consult on the shape of the new powers. We must make it our priority to ensure the new rules target rogue operators without unduly impacting on the many reputable providers delivering professional standards of service. We are reassured that government will have advice from a new national Supported Housing Advisory Panel, bringing together experts to help ensure the new act is well implemented.
Doing this job well will mean facing up to some difficult truths. Firstly, that councils must be resourced to implement this new Bill. Financial support from government to support councils to use the new powers will be critical, as there is a risk some councils may opt out of licencing because of the up-front costs and risks.
Secondly, we need to look at where the staff will come from in both the local authority enforcement and support sectors. Investing to build workforce capacity must go hand in hand with implementation of the Bill.
Finally, the supported housing sector simply cannot do its job properly without dedicated funding for support to ensure service viability. As councils act against rogue operators, we must plug the gap with good quality provision.
There is certainly much work still to do – but this Bill provides the critical building blocks needed to stop the scourge of rogue landlords profiteering off some of the most at-risk people in our society.
We urge MPs of all parties, the Lords and government to make sure the Bill becomes law this Spring.
Bob Blackman is the Conservative MP for Harrow East. Andy Street is the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands.
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