If finding affordable housing is difficult for numerous young professionals and key workers in the country – and especially in the capital – imagine how hard it is for prison leavers struggling to find a job, or for refugees who have just landed on new shores. Then there are the victims of domestic abuse desperately trying to relocate, and those thrown into homelessness.
For all these people, exempt accommodation was introduced in 1996 as a way for the government to give out a helping hand.
Exempt accommodation is shared housing exempt from local housing allowance rates, hence its name. It is not funded by a local authority, and it aims to provide a level of care and support on top of supplying physical shelter. In other words, it fills a gap for the most vulnerable.
This type of housing can enable people to start anew. But it has not been without controversy. In the last few years, this kind of accommodation has ballooned and some providers were exposed for dispensing a superficial amount of support, while reaping the benefits. According to the requirements, providing exempt accommodation must be a non-profit activity.
The charity Crisis has disclosed that over 150,000 households in the UK live in “controversial exempt accommodation”. This number represents a 62 per cent increase from 2016 to 2021. According to the charity the sector is “dangerously under-regulated”.
As a result, there have been growing calls to crack down on it, with many local authorities railing against the lack of regulation. In Birmingham especially, it has become an inflection point.
Excessive regulation risks strangling the genuine providers, layering on burdensome administration and ultimately meaning they are unable to provide housing. But without it, bad apples are allowed to thrive.
According to Gurpaal Judge, CEO of Lotus Sanctuary, it is essential we strike a delicate balance. Get it wrong and those who need our help the most will be left behind.