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Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill

Volume 830: debated on Friday 16 June 2023

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, let me briefly recap on this Private Member’s Bill, introduced in the other place by Bob Blackman MP, who has once again secured government backing for much needed housing legislation. This follows the success of his historic Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which has prevented many thousands of households becoming homeless. I am honoured to be piloting his Bill through your Lordships’ House and declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The Bill addresses the malpractices and abuses that are causing much distress to vulnerable people in need of somewhere to live, while costing the taxpayer many millions each year. Recently, there has been an alarming increase in the numbers of people needing supported accommodation, including people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, those leaving prison with nowhere to go and those escaping domestic abuse, among many others. Unscrupulous landlords have been accommodating these vulnerable people using a special exemption from the usual restrictions on housing benefit and universal credit to charge very high rents, covered in full by the taxpayer, for low-quality accommodation with little or no extra support. So lucrative has it become to take advantage of the lack of regulation in this space that one MP described it as more profitable than dealing drugs.

The Bill will see local authorities imposing a licensing regime for supported exempt accommodation and requires adherence to national standards for both the accommodation and the additional support for tenants. It gives the Secretary of State powers to establish a framework for regulatory oversight and enforcement. This is an extremely complex issue because the current opportunities for receiving higher rents and support for care services apply not only to exploitative landlords taking advantage of a benefits loophole but to highly respectable charities and altruistic housing and care bodies operating in the same field. New regulation must not stifle, inhibit or add unnecessary costs or duties for these thoroughly commendable supported housing providers. Much sensitivity is required, therefore, in formulating the details of the new regime. Extensive engagement with local authorities, housing and care providers, the National Housing Federation and others will now follow. The Bill opens the door to a thorough-going new regime which should release public funds for the decent operators to extend their vital work.

My Lords, we welcome the Third Reading of this important Bill, as well as the contributions from across the House throughout its passage. Progress on addressing exploitation by rogue exempt accommodation operators has been far too slow, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, just spelled out. I commend the Government for extending these provisions to enhance local authority oversight of supported housing. I thank Bob Blackman MP, the Bill’s sponsor in the other place, and the noble Lord for piloting it through this House. I am sure the whole House will hope that the Bill can now enable local authorities to drive up standards in their areas.

I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Best, and Bob Blackman, and particularly to mention Crisis, which has been heavily involved in this. Those of us in local government will have seen this with our own eyes, having turned up at places and been disgusted by what we saw. We acted and we tried to do things about it, but we lacked the necessary clout and oomph that the Bill will deliver.

Be under no illusions: the hard work starts now. The people on the advisory panel will have their work cut out, but I think the way is very clear. Vulnerable people were being massively exploited and this is a Bill whose time has come. It has great cross-party support, and it will make a difference. Good luck to the panel, which I assume the noble Lord, Lord Best, will be on. It has its work cut out, but please can it work quickly?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for taking the Bill through the House. I thank noble Lords from across the House for their valuable contributions through its passage. I thank and pay tribute to my honourable friend Bob Blackman MP for his tireless efforts in guiding this important Bill through the other place. The Government are pleased to support this crucial Bill, and I am personally very pleased to continue to support it today.

The measures in the Bill will drive out the rogue operators in the supported housing sector and ensure that the vulnerable people who rely on supported housing services to help them live as independently as possible can be confident that they are living in good-quality supported housing.

I want to be clear that, in taking the measures in the Bill forward, the Government will work with the sector, local authorities and others to make sure that good providers can continue to deliver excellent supported housing. The Bill contains a number of measures that will deliver the objective of driving out rogues. These include two very important measures that I will mention today.

The first is a power enabling the Secretary of State to set out national standards for supported housing. The standards will mean that both providers of supported housing and residents will know precisely what good-quality housing with care and support looks like. These standards will need to work across the complex and varied types of supported housing, and will need to be flexible enough to promote innovation and avoid stifling supply.

The second measure is the supported housing licensing regime. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to consult on the detail of the licensing schemes and enables him to make regulations to put them into action. Providers of supported housing schemes will need to meet conditions in order to be licensed; not least, they must comply with the national standards. The Government have already started on a comprehensive programme of stakeholder engagement so that the views of providers, residents and statutory consultees are taken into account. This work will include looking at the costs to local authorities, so that new burdens assessments can be completed.

In conclusion, I want to be very clear that the Government value supported housing; we know that it plays a vital role enabling vulnerable people to live independently. I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his sponsorship of the Bill, and my honourable friend Bob Blackman in the other place for his hard work and dedication in putting the Bill forward.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Thornhill, for their support. I thank the Minister for his support, and for underlining the Government’s support for the Bill and their willingness to fund the extra burden it involves for local authorities. The true supported housing sector needs significantly more help to reach vulnerable people in real need, and the hard work now begins to put in place the regulatory framework that banishes the bad landlords and strongly encourages the good.

I underline our thanks to Bob Blackman MP, who has now consolidated his position as a leading advocate for better housing for homeless and vulnerable people. I hope he soon comes high in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills for a third time.

My sincere thanks also go to Crisis. As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, it has, as always, provided invaluable backup. I record my appreciation to the Bill team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for their patience and painstaking work on the preparation and passage of the Bill. It is always a joy to work with talented civil servants on a Private Member’s Bill. This is my sixth and, once again, as a Minister for the day, it is revealing and gratifying to see the quality of the work that goes on behind the scenes.

In conclusion, I am sure the Bill will make a real difference to people living in the most unenviable conditions we can imagine. I wish the Government, in partnership with the supported housing sector, every success in making a reality of the promise contained within the Bill.

Bill passed.