What is ‘exempt’ housing?

Exempt accommodation often houses vulnerable people (such as the homeless) and is supported accommodation, providing residents with care and support services.

Exempt housing is ‘exempt’ from Housing of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) licensing and is funded by housing benefit.

Tenants can be exempt from housing benefit caps and Registered Providers (RP’s) can charge higher rents than regular landlords.

To try and prevent private landlords from making unreasonable profits from this system, the accommodation provider has to fall into a ‘not-for-profit’ category, which includes RPs such as Sustain UK.

For a claim to be treated as an exempt accommodation claim, the accommodation provider must provide care, support or supervision to the tenant.

As an RP, Sustain UK is regulated by the Regulator of Social Housing.

Why has exempt housing become a problem in Birmingham?

In short, because of the growing problem of poor-quality exempt supported housing being perpetuated by an increasing number of rogue operators.

Many of these operators are from outside the city and have been tempted into Birmingham by the prospect of exploiting circumstances and housing benefit to make a quick buck.

These unscrupulous accommodation providers have, at times, put many vulnerable people, (as well as the communities they live in), in danger due to a lack of scrutiny.

Sustain UK has become increasingly concerned about this trend, and supports halting new, unregulated organisations setting-up in Birmingham and profiting from housing benefit, without the required checks on the standards of accommodation and support.’

How does Sustain UK maintain its standards of supported accommodation?

Sustain UK’s mission is to provide vulnerable people, such as the homeless, with an opportunity to live in a safe and decent standard of accommodation, to be delivered by a trained, local workforce.

The organisation has grown from a single property in 2009 to around 400 properties today – with 114 housing providers, covering approximately 1,800 tenants.

Homes are provided by housing providers who must undergo Sustain UK’s rigorous application and inspection process to ensure the properties and level of support adhere to Sustain UK’s high standards.

Sustain UK sets and maintains its accommodation standards by managing the application process and ongoing inspections, with housing providers entering three-year management agreements.

Sustain UK has an enviable record in retaining its home providers, and the people it places, even though other registered social landlords pay higher levels of rent and service charges.

What changes has Sustain UK made?

Sustain UK has taken the time to listen and respond to the concerns of local residents and other stakeholders, (as well as the increasing media focus), on poor standards in exempt housing and the associated social problems.

Sustain UK has taken significant steps in response to local housing challenges and calls on further collaborative action to improve the situation.

In line with the objectives set out by Birmingham City Council, Sustain UK chose to freeze its available bed numbers in March 2019, and has also signed up to the Council’s recent ‘Supported Exempt Accommodation Quality Standards’.

In February 2018, Sustain UK elected to suspend offering properties in identified exempt housing density ‘hotspots’. This included the Stockland Green Ward, where evidence suggests the social infrastructure is overloaded and cannot accommodate ever-increasing levels of HMOs and supported living projects.

Sustain UK broadly welcomes Birmingham City Council’s approach to reversing the growth of exempt accommodation, as well as addressing the long-term need to raise the standard of supported accommodation and properties for those in urgent need of housing.

Moving forward

The Regulator for Social Housing recently announced that it would be investigating a number of the RPs operating in Birmingham, and as a result, Sustain UK expects the number of exempt accommodation units in the city to be drastically reduced.

In the meantime, Sustain UK will continue to maintain its standards of support and accommodation, and ensure that it is able to continue building on its 13 year legacy of helping some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

If you have any questions

If you have any questions with regards to exempt housing in Birmingham and the changes Sustain UK Ltd has made over recent years, please email Director Ian MacGregor at ian@sustainuk.org