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Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill

Volume 722: debated on Friday 18 November 2022

Proceedings resumed.

I might recount my introductory remarks for colleagues who were not here 15 or 20 minutes ago, although they will not be as elongated as they were the first time around.

More seriously, this is a really important Bill. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—my good friend—for promoting it. As someone who, like him, has had experience in local government, I know at first hand the excellent work done by local authorities. One challenge that we need to face in debating this Bill is the capacity of local authorities to have a meaningful impact on both the creation of the regulatory environment and enforcement. Another point about the first part, which is important, is consistency across the country. We have unfortunately seen cases where one council may have capacity to enforce properly, but neighbouring ones are not able to do so. Entrepreneurial wrongdoers will use that opportunity to cross the invisible line of local government boundaries to continue to exploit the most vulnerable in our communities.

In my own South West Hertfordshire constituency I have good housing providers, which provide adequate support. In the south, I have 136 units of supported housing in Three Rivers, none of which is provided by the local authority. In the north, in Dacorum, there are 2,541 units, of which 536 are provided by private registered providers.

The Bill is not and should not be focused on those who do the right thing; it is for those who are not particularly discouraged from doing the wrong things. There is evidence, as we heard in the excellent introductory speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, of bad behaviour up and down the country. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) referred specifically to her own constituency and a local council. We need to ensure that there is a framework in place to actively discourage people from even attempting to exploit those whom we are looking to support.

The motivation to exploit and the need for supported housing are both real. The fact that it is uncapped means that it can potentially be quite lucrative. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) referred to some of the millions involved in this particular industry. The ambition for the Bill, which I fully support, is to have a minimum standard for the types of dwelling on offer to those who really need it.

On the impact on local communities, there is unfortunately a strong correlation between communities with a high concentration of supported homes and antisocial behaviour and crime. I think it was the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood who referred to the cyclical nature of that problem, with the most vulnerable being continually the victims of persecution and, in this case, exploitation.

Poor-quality housing, communal areas being turned into rooms and building control remain critical issues. If permitted development rights and probably failings in planning enforcement mean that dwellings that were built for two or three bedrooms could potentially have eight or nine, with a couple of people in each, yet only one or two amenity spaces such as kitchens, WCs or larger bathrooms, that cannot be right. While housing supply remains tight up and down the country, we need to ensure that the quality is improved. As someone who sat on a planning committee for 16 years in local government circles before I came to this place, I saw the continual challenge of ensuring that developers, whether public or private, were doing the right thing.

It remains one of my ambitions to see that we future-proof our dwellings so that, theoretically, someone could live in the same home from the age of zero all the way to 100 years. That is fine if people are able to afford a decent, well-built home, but this debate is focused on those who need the state, both local government and national Government, to step in to ensure that they have the safety net they need to find their own way to get back on their feet and out of supported housing.

One critical thing we need to be mindful of is data. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood mentioned the lack of data in this area. I studied mathematics many years ago and I know that, while from a policy perspective no politician wants to create bad legislation, we need the evidence base to confirm our assumptions. I have a continuing passion for value for money, and I am sure the Minister, who was previously in the Treasury, will agree that whether it is a local authority or the national Government, being able to prove that money is being spent well should be of paramount importance. We should be able both to improve the quality of homes and to offer better value for money. My challenge to her is not necessarily to spend more money, but to spend it better. The ultimate outcome should be a better quality of life for those who require this service.

The numbers show that 153,700 households in Great Britain were housed in exempt accommodation in May 2021. These are thousands of families who rely on the state. One of the biggest things we should do in this place is to ensure that people live to the best of their potential, and part of that is ensuring that they are not focusing on having a roof over their head, dealing with mould or putting food on the table. It is about saying to them, “You can be brilliant, exceptional and amazing.”

I am sure I speak for all colleagues in saying that one of the joys of this job is going to speak to schoolchildren, and saying, “The opportunities you have, being brought up in this country, are second to none.” As a second-generation immigrant, my sitting on these green Benches would be a rare phenomenon in other parts of the world, which makes me proud to be British.

On protecting vulnerable people, we unfortunately continue to hear about cases of sexual harassment and threats of eviction by landlords. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood mentioned a local provider who seems to use bully-boy tactics to threaten tenants who do the right thing by escalating. Although we want to discourage bad behaviour, there are occasional unintended consequences where a decent, reasonable landlord is tainted or accused of being a bad landlord. If there were a national register, it is important that they should be able to quickly appeal erroneous decisions.

Although I am not well versed, I have a little experience of cab licensing, which involves people’s livelihoods. Accusations obviously need to be properly investigated, but frivolous accusations should not be detrimental to a person or company being able to earn their livelihood.

I will keep this fairly short, as I am conscious that a lot of people want to speak. On the Government’s track record, I applaud last year’s £5.4 million year-long pilot in five local areas, which has created the evidence base to say that this is required. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that a panel of experts should feed into policymaking but, ultimately, decisions should be with the Minister and the Department. Although they will happily allow the input of good-quality evidence and data, it is for politicians to make policy. I applaud the independent panel, but the executive policy positioning and levers remain with the Department.

It is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra).

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on bringing forward the Bill, and I commend his efforts in recent months to ensure that what we have before us is a robust piece of legislation. I thank all those who had a hand in developing and drafting the Bill: Justin Bates, Joe Thomas, Sam Lister, the team at Crisis and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) who we, on this side of the House, fully acknowledge did much to get us to this point.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) for her earlier contribution. A handful of Members have doggedly pursued this issue over several years due to its impact in their constituencies, and she stands out among that small cohort for her persistence and determination in bringing this scandal to an end. She deserves full credit for doing so.

This is, without question, an important and impactful piece of legislation, yet it is also one that is long overdue. We have known for a considerable amount of time that far too many vulnerable people across the country find themselves living in unsafe, poor quality shared housing without the support they require and that those people have been exploited by unscrupulous providers who, by taking advantage of gaps in the existing regulatory regime, use them to extract significant amounts of public money through the exempt provisions relating to housing benefit. That there exist many good supported exempt providers is not in dispute, nor is the need to act with care to ensure that any measures introduced do not unduly impact on them, but that was never a convincing argument against acting at pace to address this scandal.

The harm that sharp practice in this sector is causing, both to vulnerable individuals left without adequate support and to communities struggling to cope with the impact of concentrated numbers of badly run exempt accommodation properties, is precisely why the Opposition tabled a motion in February this year calling on the Government to implement a package of emergency measures to end the exploitation and profiteering that is taking place as a result of rogue providers gaming the system. So, while I do not in any way wish to detract from the hon. Gentleman’s achievement in securing a place in the ballot and selecting this issue for his Bill, we on the Labour Benches do regret that the Government did not act sooner to bring this scandal swiftly and decisively to an end and that we are instead having to rely on a private Member’s Bill to make progress on this matter.

That criticism aside, we very much welcome the measures contained in the Bill, which will enhance local authority oversight of supported housing and thereby enable local authorities to drive up standards within their areas. In particular, we welcome the provisions in the Bill that will enable the Secretary of State to prepare and publish national supported housing standards for England and those that will provide powers to make licensing regulations. As we have long argued, introducing a robust framework of national standards for the sector is essential given the vague present criteria that exists for determining what qualifies as the “more-than-minimal” care, support, or supervision to be provided by an exempt accommodation landlord. There is an overwhelming case for better regulating the eligibility for, and therefore access to, exempt benefit claims at a local level, to ensure that high-quality supported housing providers are the norm.

That said, there are ways in which we believe the Bill might be strengthened. Let me take an example that has been mentioned several times this morning. While we appreciate both the complexities involved in designing a workable system and the understandable concerns that exist about what such powers could mean for overall levels of supported housing provision, on balance we feel that the measures relating to planning set out in clause 8 are too limited, requiring only that within three years of Royal Assent the Secretary of State must carry out a review of the effect of the first licensing regulations introduced and then to consider on the basis of its findings whether to exercise powers in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to designate a new use class.

We believe that there is a robust case for considering again whether new planning powers that would allow local authorities to better proactively manage their local supported housing market should be incorporated into the Bill. I am aware, as the hon. Member for Harrow East will be, that many local authorities on the frontline of this problem are calling for precisely that to happen.

Other areas for improvement that we would suggest include: enhancing provisions for national monitoring and oversight; adding social security offences, such as dishonesty in claiming housing benefit, to the list of new banning order offences alongside the failure to comply with the licensing regime; and establishing evaluation and improvement notice procedures that mirror part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, so that local authorities with limited resources or only one or two problematic supported exempt providers have other options to drive up standards short of implementing a full licensing regime.

We hope that these and other constructive suggestions, as well as more general issues, such as whether local authorities will get the resources they need to implement the provisions in the Bill, can be debated constructively in Committee. What is important for today is that this Bill passes its Second Reading. For that reason, as well as to give the House sufficient time to do justice to the important Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) will introduce next, I do not intend to detain the House for any longer, other than to state the following. The Bill is not a panacea. It does not address, in any way, the reasons that we have become overly reliant on non-commissioned exempt accommodation, including: a chronic shortage of genuinely affordable housing; reductions in funding for housing-related support; and new barriers to access for single adults requiring social rented or mainstream privately rented housing. But the Bill will help to put rogue exempt accommodation operators out of business and better enable local authorities to drive up supported housing standards in their areas. In doing so, it will improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society—those fleeing domestic abuse, those with severe mental health needs, those who have served their time in prison and are trying to make a fresh start, those leaving care and those battling addiction and substance dependence.

For that reason, I urge the House to give the Bill its Second Reading. I look forward to the anticipated commitments from the Minister. I hope the Bill will be further improved in Committee, and I trust that we can work on a cross-party basis to ensure that it becomes law as quickly as possible.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for bringing the Bill forward and for his long-term commitment in this sector. It has taken a lot of work for him and his team to bring the Bill to this point, and I congratulate them all on the work they have done. I welcome the Minister to her place. I know from the work she has done with her constituents that she is also committed to this sector and will bring some much-needed conscientiousness to the passage of the Bill.

The driver for most of us in this place—in fact, pretty much all of us, on both sides of the House—is that we want to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities. If we do not agree on that, we will not get anywhere fast, but I think we do. What we disagree on, perhaps, is how we get there. If we can keep that at the heart of all our debates, we will not go too far wrong.

Cornwall has long had a shortage of affordable housing, and it will come as no surprise to anyone that I will concentrate my remarks on that. Housing supply for local people continues to be squeezed, with more and more properties being held as holiday accommodation. The growth of the online short-term holiday lettings sector and the prevalence of second home ownership in the area has led to a shift in the rental market, with an acute reduction in the number of tenancies available for local people. This is important, because that sector is being squeezed the most in our towns and villages, and where the local council and providers cannot find suitable accommodation, that is relevant to the context of this discussion.

Cornwall is on a peninsula. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) talked about licensing needing to be consistent in all the local authorities in the surrounding area, but we do not have that luxury in Cornwall. We are a peninsula, and we need to get it right. We have a finite amount of housing in our area, and therefore we need to make sure that all the housing is being used for the right purposes. That is why I always bang on about second home ownership and holiday lets—not because I want to demonise any one community, but so that everybody understands the fight we are fighting in Cornwall.

The Conservatives took control of the council a couple of years ago, and I pay tribute to our new portfolio holder for housing, Olly Monk, who has worked tirelessly on this. We had over 1,000 people in temporary accommodation, and he purchased SoloHaus homes, which provide safe, comfortable and sustainable dwellings for homeless people. There was the Everyone In initiative during the covid pandemic, and we are trying to keep that going in Cornwall. SoloHaus offers safe homes with their own front door for people who are in crisis. Homelessness has been growing in Cornwall for a number of years. That was brought sharply into the spotlight during the covid pandemic, as it was in many areas, and local authorities had to do something quickly.

We have a lot of these types of home in Old County Hall in Truro, and they are working. They give somebody a place to go. They have their own front door, they are welcoming spaces, and they are built to the highest standards of sustainability, safety and durability. They are designed with leading homelessness charities and stakeholder groups. They have a considered layout, an abundance of natural light and good storage. Most of all, they mean that we know people are in a safe space.

Nearly 3,500 households received support from the local authority last year through either homelessness prevention or temporary accommodation. There are over 650 households—approximately 1,200 people—still in temporary accommodation. Some 21,000 households are on Cornwall’s social housing waiting list, which is about 8% of our population. There is precious little data on the number of people who live in precarious housing situations or are sofa surfing, but we know that more than 700 of the people who have received help from the local authority stated that family and friends were no longer willing or able to accommodate them. We believe that that is just the tip of the iceberg and that significantly more people are vulnerably housed in Cornwall.

Many people who find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness are not entitled to any support from the state, hence where we are today. So I want to pay tribute to a local charity that is beloved by many in Cornwall, St Petrocs, which helps to step in to offer support and advice. St Petrocs currently manages and provides accommodation for about 150 people throughout Cornwall; every one of those properties is very different, with a variety of locations and tenants, but the properties are all a step up from homelessness and help with integration into society. St Petrocs deals with a lot of addiction issues and a lot of vulnerability from other areas of people’s lives. Although the properties are all set up differently, all residents have their own bedroom, with shared communal facilities, and the residents take responsibility for making their own food and maintaining a clean home. The houses are managed by their accommodation officers, who, crucially, provide support and guidance in person, as well as via a 24-hour on-call system. Many residents are given an old brick mobile phone with the phone number of the accommodation officer, which means that if they find themselves in crisis, they have somebody on hand they can call, who understands their case and situation, and knows them. That crisis can come in any way, shape or form, be it because of substandard accommodation or people taking advantage of them.

Together with the accommodation officer, the residents agree a pathway for their time at the house and they prepare themselves for moving on. They learn to cook, gain budgeting skills and prepare themselves for work, by taking part in a vocational development project. They are also encouraged to have hobbies and to engage with the wider community. I am going into such detail on this because I want to share with the House what I believe is best practice and should be the gold standard for people who have been struggling in this way and for those trying to get them back into society. I am sure there are many other providers that right hon. and hon. Members can highlight, but that one is beloved in Cornwall and does a huge amount of good work,

One reason I want to draw attention to the good work is that one other vulnerability we have in Cornwall is that we are at the end of the lines for the county lines scourge on our constituencies. A few years ago, we were finding that our vulnerable residents not being cared for by people such as St Petrocs were being cuckooed in accommodation such as that to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has referred. This was a real scourge in our towns and villages. Drugs gangs from cities think that we are an easy target and I suppose that at one point we probably were. Devon and Cornwall police have been brilliant on this in the past five or six years, and have given a lot of good advice to people—to neighbours and communities. What we do well in Cornwall is having great communities, still, so people can look out for unusual activity, which we need to do. Where the Bill will help, particularly though clauses 7 and 8, is on the licensing.

I go back to the parallel that I started with, which is that of a housing crisis in Cornwall. One thing we want to achieve in Cornwall is a similar licensing scheme for the short-term holiday lets. The right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) intervened to say that some of these rogue landlords were registering places as holiday lets, which provided a loophole. That interested me because in Cornwall we want to make sure we know where all of our short-term holiday lets are and exactly where the types of accommodation we are discussing today are too. We need to look to the Minister to combine these licensing schemes, so that local authorities can have a bit more control over what is going on and where. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East in everything he is achieving today. I absolutely support clauses 7 and 8, which deal with planning and draw the same parallels with what we are trying to achieve in Cornwall on change of use. My Cornish colleagues and I are campaigning for the autonomy for Cornwall Council to make these decisions itself. We are looking towards a county deal in Cornwall and I understand that a lot of what we are calling for needs changes to be made in primary legislation, but actually if we incorporate this into a licensing scheme, rather than go through the planning process, perhaps we can start to achieve some of these things more quickly.

I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend is attempting to do through his very well-thought-out Bill. It goes to the heart of what we need to do in our communities, which is to support the most vulnerable people whose voice often goes unheard. We are here today to speak up for them, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). For a long time we had a railway line from Croydon to Exeter, so I am well aware of the situation with the county lines and the little kids going down to Exeter, and I have worked with the police there in trying to reduce that vulnerability. It is also a real pleasure to speak in the debate, although my speech will be brief.

Let me start by saying how strongly I support the Bill. We have debated it at length, and, although it does not go as far as anyone of us would like, it is a step in the right direction, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on his work. I also congratulate—on our side of the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), and the Select Committee, on the work that they have done.

I want to paint a picture of what is happening in Croydon. I have been told that it has more supported exempt accommodation than any other area. That may not be the case, given that Birmingham seems to have so much of it, but we certainly have very high levels of such accommodation. We also have the second highest number of looked-after young people in the country, and almost the highest, if not the highest, number of unaccompanied asylum seekers. Thousands of people are moved to our borough from other London boroughs because our accommodation is cheaper. Myriad problems are associated with that, but at the heart of them all is supported exempt accommodation, which is driving up the business model for the rogue landlords and fuelling a push towards Croydon from other parts of London, because more money can be made from its cheaper accommodation.

Let me briefly describe a few incidents that have occurred. Some of them involve supported exempt accommodation, while others involve other forms of vulnerable accommodation. In one road there were two murders in six months. The first person who was murdered had been moved from another London borough into a flat in Croydon. People were subsequently drinking in the street in memory of him, as it were, and that behaviour was protracted and became antisocial. There was a fight, and a second young man was murdered. There is a case at the Old Bailey at the moment involving a young man from my constituency. I cannot talk about it in detail, but he too was murdered. The accused is the man who lived in the next room, in supported accommodation. There was another person who the police thought for several days had been murdered because of the horrific nature of the way in which he had committed suicide; he was another vulnerable young man in supported accommodation. In cases such as these, which are beyond horrific, vulnerable people have been placed in accommodation where, for one reason or another, they have not received the support that they needed.

An increasing number of streets in Croydon in areas that are not historically known for having such problems are having difficulties related to antisocial behaviour because of the large number of vulnerable people being placed in several properties in one street and not receiving the support they need. Supported exempt accommodation is wrapped up with permitted development, which is another huge problem in Croydon. Additionally, very large office buildings are being converted into flats which are not of good quality and are often let to people on a short-term basis.

One of the issues highlighted by the hon. Member for Harrow East was the inadequate sharing of data and information. The local authority is clearly not informed about many of the people who are placed in Croydon, so the data is not there; where there are vulnerable people, the authority does not know about them. The most extreme case of that concerned a young man from another part of London who was placed in accommodation for looked-after people in the borough. He had a problem with another person, owing to gang rivalries, who was also placed in Croydon. The two bumped into each other by chance, and one murdered the other. It is enormously damaging to our communities, and to families and individuals, when data is not shared and people do not know where vulnerable people are. I have submitted a freedom of information request to all London boroughs asking them how many families they have in Croydon in any form of accommodation, whether temporary, looked-after or supported, and whether those people have addictions, mental health problems—or whatever it is. The data is coming back, and I will analyse it, but it refers to thousands and thousands of people, more in some boroughs than others. It is a real problem.

As I said earlier, supported exempt accommodation is at the heart of this issue. When I went to the local jobcentre, I was told that it was also at the heart of the problems with trying to get young people into work: they cannot go into work, because the model does not work and they are encouraged not to work. Not only do we have very vulnerable people in what is often very inadequate and unsupported accommodation, but they are not getting the opportunities to improve their lives—to go out and get work—that we all want them to have.

I will leave it there: I just wanted to give a few examples of some of the more horrific cases in my constituency. It cannot be right that we have any kind of model whereby people can make money at the expense of the taxpayer by exploiting vulnerable young people. Older people are affected as well, but in my borough it seems a lot of young people are being exploited. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East on his Bill, and all those who have been fighting for such legislation for so long. I give them my full support.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). I will also talk about support for vulnerable individuals. It was harrowing to hear the examples from her constituency, where care—if we can call it that—in supported exempt accommodation has gone horrendously wrong and needs to be fixed urgently. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for bringing forward this important Bill.

Supported accommodation covers a range of people with a range of needs: those with learning disabilities, care leavers, prison leavers, those with mental health needs—both complex and quite simple mental health needs—refugees and victims of domestic abuse, to name a few. In my previous career as a mental health doctor, I looked after people from all those backgrounds and in all those situations. I looked after many patients who have required supported accommodation of one form or another, and I visited lots of different types of supported accommodation that was providing care, both in a broad sense and in a more specific, medical sense.

Finding good accommodation is a huge issue when it comes to providing care and treatment for people, particularly those with mental health needs, and it can be—I am sure this remains the case—a huge barrier to discharging people from hospital. When I was the consultant on Gresham ward 1 in Croydon hospital—I suspect, although I am not sure, that some of the people I looked after will have been discharged to the constituency of the hon. Member for Croydon Central—we would prioritise in the first few days of any admission consideration of the discharge location and any barriers to such accommodation. That is absolutely critical in the context of providing care to people, particularly those with very complex and severe mental illness.

In preparing my speech for this debate, I was thinking back to all the different types of accommodation I have visited that patients I have looked after have lived in or been discharged to, and I was trying to think whether they would come under the category of supported exempt accommodation. I struggled to try to make sense of commissioning arrangements and which precise regulatory framework would be in operation, to be honest. I would like to be able to say to the House, “I have been to one of these places. I have seen patients there”, and so on, but I cannot, because I cannot be sure. I strongly suspect that people I have seen and looked after, particularly people in wet hostels, for example, or people with low-level mental health needs but in complex circumstances, have been in supported exempt accommodation, but I cannot be sure. That in itself is concerning.

I am also concerned how all that fits with a new regulatory framework, because any care and treatment provided by NHS services will be regulated by the Care Quality Commission. Personal care is CQC-regulated. The question is where that fits into the whole regulatory morass of supported exempt accommodation that provides general supportive care. The CQC badge may come from personal care that is outsourced to an external provider. Going through this exercise of trying to think where it all fits is concerning and challenging.

Some of the remarks I have found interesting in this debate were about unpacking the whole area of general support. General support is really important, too, and it can have powerful impacts on people’s transitions and people’s lives going forward. General support in accommodation is not to be belittled as the second-class cousin to the more intense interventions we get from regulated providers with the CQC. For example, there was a discussion earlier about providers not giving employment support, because if people get into work, it creates more problems for them in how much profit they can make. That is probably the most perverse situation I can imagine. When I was previously working as a mental health doctor, one of the critical things I would try to do for my patients was support them to get back into work, for their health and wellbeing going forward. Employment support is not a little thing; it is a huge thing that has a huge impact on people’s overall health and wellbeing.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Drawing on his expertise, and looking on a system-wide basis, does he think that the invention of the integrated care boards, pulling together social services, councils and the NHS all in one place, provides the chance to try to join up exactly the care he is talking about?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is a really good question. As the Bill goes through, and hopefully in the Minister’s response, I would like to hear how the regulatory framework it puts forward sits alongside the role of the new integrated care systems, particularly in regard to the duties of organisations that provide healthcare-type treatments to people in exempt settings.

To give a different example of how important general support is, in my career I have looked after many people with complex and severe psychotic illnesses. I recall quite a few cases where people sadly were, despite best treatment and intervention, quite disabled and continued to be quite disabled as a result of their illness, and they were being discharged back into community settings and supported accommodation. Although over the past 30 or 40 years we rightly dismantled the asylum system and brought in care in the community, we then expected the community almost organically to provide general support to people who had severe chronic mental health needs.

However, what I quite often saw was that we had created what I call an asylum of one, where somebody was in a type of supported accommodation on their own with very little social interaction and not much of the sort of stuff coming under general supportive care going in. With many of the people I saw, my conclusion was that they did not have reason to be well, because in the community there was not the outreach, support or ongoing engagement, and that led to destabilisation, worsening mental health problems and admission to hospital.

I want to stress the importance of the general supportive care that is being provided to people in supported exempt accommodation, and how necessary and important it is that there is proper oversight and scrutiny, as well as thought about how and what is delivered and making sure it is badged so that it meets the appropriate criteria. Not giving this the same importance as other regulated activities, such as those regulated by the CQC, is unwise and, as we have discussed and seen today, has the potential to do a disservice to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

I congratulate again my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East on bringing forward the Bill. I am really pleased that this is being supported to make these very important changes, particularly the national supported housing standards, the advisory panel, which makes a lot of sense, and the licensing framework. To finish, there is a need to collect data, because without data we do not know what the situation is or how many of these organisations operate. With data, we can understand where the problems are and we can scrutinise what is being done to ensure that the most vulnerable in society—this is a group of highly vulnerable people—are getting the support, care and treatment they need. I very much welcome the Bill, and I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in this debate.

First, it is a delight to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) and, with his background, his very informed contribution. I particularly want to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for bringing forward this important Bill. To pick up one of his comments, he said that his previous private Member’s Bill was his proudest moment as an MP, and he could add this to it. This really shows the role that Back-Bench MPs can play in improving the lives of people across the country.

I think across the House we all agree that protecting the most vulnerable in society is one of the core duties of Government, and that the Government also need to protect the taxpayer. On both these measures, the current legislation—or indeed the lack of it—fails abysmally. Exempted sheltered housing is a vital part of the support given to many vulnerable groups, as we have heard. As Conservatives, we certainly believe in helping people to help themselves, and some people need more of a helping hand than others. Supported housing provides a vital stepping-stone to a normal life, and if it fails to provide a supportive environment, people can become stuck in the system, trapped and end up far worse off.

As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) mentioned, many good organisations and local authorities already provide fantastic support with exempted housing for vulnerable groups. For example, victims of domestic abuse often take seven years to extract themselves from their abuser, and they need supported housing as a waypoint between such a vicious circle and being able to rebuild their lives. If the supported housing is unsafe and squalid, they may end up back in the hands of their abuser. We have heard several examples of very similar situations in which people were actually in rooms next door to their abusers or attackers. Other vulnerable groups, whether those recovering from drugs or refugees, need places of calm and stability to help them find their feet and become productive members of society again.

However, despite all the good work that lots of good organisations and local authorities do, a minority are clearly abusing the system. We have heard many examples of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East talked about some of the horrors, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, who is no longer in her place, gave many examples of abuses from her city, as did the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). I am glad that I have yet to come across any such abuses in my South Cambridgeshire constituency, but they clearly happen across the country.

Unscrupulous landlords often provide appalling accommodation and care to residents who deserve far better. In addition to the cases that we have heard about, I have read stories about 65 residents having to share three baths and two showers. There are countless stories of abuse and mistreatment of vulnerable people while in supported housing.

On the landlord side, we have all heard the stories about the creation of special-purpose vehicles to make huge profits out of the financial support given by the taxpayer to support the vulnerable. As we have heard, they can make millions of pounds of profit in a single day by flipping sales of properties back to back, which are leased to help the most vulnerable people in society. Those private landlords are generating completely unjustifiable profits by abusing the most vulnerable in society. That is clearly a major failing of the system, which enables unscrupulous landlords to abuse both residents and the taxpayer. It needs to change. That is why I welcome the Bill and the increased regulatory glare that it will bring to that unsavoury corner of the current system.

The Government will set standards for exempted sheltered housing so that local authorities, landlords and—most importantly—residents will know exactly what is expected. Landlords of exempt housing will have to apply for licences from their local authorities, who will be empowered to properly manage the system and ensure that standards are upheld.

There has been discussion about the need for a national regulator to back that up and about exactly what the enforcement mechanism and role of the local authority should be. I will make a wider point about property regulation and ombudsmen, which is an area that I have been involved with in the past. There is a proliferation of ombudsmen and regulators in the different property sectors, with the new homes ombudsman and the social housing ombudsman and regulator for as well as an estate agent regulator and the property ombudsman. In my previous role I dealt a lot with financial services, where there is one regulator and one ombudsman—the Financial Conduct Authority and the financial services ombudsman—to cover the entire spectrum, rather than having a series of them.

The advantages of having a single ombudsman for a sector are that: they are far more high-profile, so people know who to go to; they can share expertise across subsectors; and they can be independent from lobby groups. There is a real risk that a regulator or ombudsman in one specific area can become captured by the industry and over-influenced by it. A single ombudsman and regulator can generally attract far higher quality and more experienced staff than a proliferation of smaller ombudsmen. I therefore urge the Minister, whom it is good to see in her place—she is a former fellow member of the Treasury Committee, where she did many years of good service—to give a thought to the overall regulatory and ombudsmen regime for the property sector, with all its different parts and the downsides of having a really fragmented system along with the advantages of a more co-ordinated system.

We have also heard about the data that will be collected under the Bill. As someone with a mathematical background, I have always tended to approve of data-driven approaches and having better data—we can never have too much data. Indeed, I was surprised by the lack of data that we have about the supported housing sector. It is quite concerning as we look into it how little we know about what the different organisations are, how many people they have and where those people are. That really limits their accountability. If we do not know what we are spending or who is there, we cannot hold the providers accountable. Who are they?

These are not small, insignificant amounts of money: the best estimates that I have seen are that the total bill is more than £2 billion a year. Therefore, with the greater oversight that the Bill would provide, we could ensure that public spending went to the right places and not into the pockets of rogue operators. I note that in a pilot conducted last year, the greater scrutiny and understanding of the system prevented the five councils involved in the pilot from paying out £6.2 million in error. Hopefully, the Bill will help to unearth similar errors and misspend, to deliver better value for money for taxpayers. The exempted sheltered housing sector has elements of the wild west about it, and the Bill will help to drive out the cowboys, and protect residents and the taxpayer. I fully commend it to the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on his speech, but I think he has done us a bit of a disservice. He spoke for 45 minutes, and I am sure he could have spoken about this topic for about three hours, given his immense knowledge. That is testament to him, and to his time and effort spent dealing with this important Bill.

I am pleased to support the Bill, and I pay tribute to the work of Justin Bates of Landmark Chambers, and to Crisis. Crisis has a long-standing reputation as an important advocate for policies on homelessness and housing. I pay tribute to its Regulate the Rogues campaign. With Christmas fast approaching, I also wish Crisis well with their upcoming Crisis at Christmas campaign, which I know is highly regarded across the UK. I appreciate, however, that Crisis and other bodies campaign throughout the year, because homelessness and housing problems are not seasonal issues, but a matter that we must continue to work through. Many of our constituents are counting on us to make progress, and the Bill is an important addition to supporting a critical sector of housing.

When I researched for this debate, I was troubled by comments from the important report by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee about exempt accommodation. Statements such as

“some residents’ experiences of exempt accommodation are beyond disgraceful”


“some people’s situations actually deteriorate as a result of the shocking conditions in which they live”

leave us wondering why we have reached a situation where some of the most vulnerable people in our society, who are trying to get their lives back after a period of personal crisis, feel that their lives are getting worse in exempt accommodation, which is meant to provide them with the necessary support to get back on their feet.

The report continues to make further worrying conclusions, such as that

“organisations with no expertise are able to target survivors of domestic abuse and their children”

and notes:

“Millions of pounds are being poured into exempt housing benefit with no guarantee that vulnerable residents will get the support they need.”

I admit to a deep sense of concern when reading a report that highlights evidence that in some cases,

“vulnerable residents who are likely to have low incomes have to pay for support out of their own pockets.”

We heard about that from several accounts in the Chamber today. I am left with the conclusion that in some instances there is a vicious cycle of residents on low incomes living in exempted accommodation, while paying for the questionable “benefits” of patchy support. Is patchy a strong word in certain cases? I think not.

Some providers of such accommodation are exempt from the benefit cap and other restrictions on housing benefit, which enables them to charge the higher rents we have heard about. We cannot ignore the fact that this is public money flowing into these operations. As we have heard, exempt accommodation means accommodation that is exempt from housing benefit regulations that limit local housing allowance levels. The higher running costs associated with that type of accommodation must be considered, but I am troubled that in some cases poor-quality and even dangerous provision for vulnerable people is the return on that investment. There must be a better return for such support in these troubling cases. I am concerned that exempt accommodation can be increasingly associated with supported accommodation that is of poor quality. Considering the needs of residents who are living in such housing, we must break down the associated stigma when people raise their concerns.

At this point in a speech, it is usual for the speaker to bring forward a mass of statistics to highlight the problems in the sector, but as we have heard countless times, that is difficult because there is no clear picture of the extent to which rogue landlords, and good operators, are operating in this sector. Advocates such as Crisis are hearing real horror stories, and we have read about them in the report and in the Chamber today. It is hard to know whether such cases are playing out in all our constituencies, in some of them, and whether some areas are worse than others. Our local councils are hearing about cases, but we may just be trying to resolve individual problems; we simply do not have the data to know. The difficulty is compounded by the different types of provider, involving multiple regulators. We must try to work out how we can tie the patchwork together.

When I spoke to my local council in Bosworth, I was advised that there were 43 exempt accommodation properties in my borough, but there may also be private landlord arrangements that are not notified to the council. My council has rightly raised concerns about standards and regulation and, strangely enough, expressed the need for licensing and possibly for inspections, as we heard from Labour Members. I am keen to see those options explored.

Then we need to know the definition of support, as the standard of support is also unclear. We veer wildly between good and bad stories, and there is no consistency even across a constituency. The provision should not be a lottery; it affects the lives of the residents we represent, and that is more important.

To be fair to the Government, I sense that they recognise the issues. I was pleased that earlier this year the previous Minister with responsibility for rough sleeping and housing, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), announced a series of targeted measures to be introduced when parliamentary time allowed. Those measures included minimum standards of support to ensure that residents receive the good-quality support that is expected and deserved, new powers for local authorities to manage the local supported housing market, changes to housing benefit regulations to seek to define care, support and supervision and a £20 million supported housing improvement programme to drive up the quality of accommodation in the sector. However, some months have passed and, from what I have read and considered on this subject from people in the sector, I think that real progress needs to be made, so I am pleased that the Government are supporting the Bill.

Turning to the provisions of the Bill, I welcome the introduction of the supported housing advisory panel, which will be as a useful sounding board and a way to gather evidence to support policy making in this area and, crucially, to drive progress. Nevertheless, it is important that the panel draw upon a geographical spread of voices, representing different voices and needs in the UK.

For instance, I can imagine that the issue facing exempted accommodation providers in more rural areas such as Bosworth may be different from those we have heard about in London, or those in Leicester or Coventry. I also want to ensure that the panel draws upon expertise and innovation in the sector, so that large and small providers can come together to innovate and drive forward good practice.

I welcome the duty for local housing authorities in England to carry out a review of supported exempt accommodation in their districts and publish a supported housing strategy, though I would be interested to understand the guidance and matrix for what the assessment should cover and how the strategy will be made up. I also want assurance that the strategy can be incorporated into any ongoing local plan process. Those documents cannot be mutually exclusive, so I would want to be sure that my local council can provide the necessary direction to ensure that its supported housing strategy really captures the needs of Hinckley and Bosworth.

Clause 3 captures the nub of the problem, and I support the idea of clearly defined standards for this accommodation. I also note that clause 4 deals with licensing as a means of ensuring that national supported housing standards are met, and I hope for swift and effective decision making about licensing.

We are coming up to the end of my third year in Parliament. When I look back over these most eventful of years, I am struck about how the good intentions that we have work out in this place and can make a real difference to the people that we represent. Hearing and reading baffling accounts of people with a history of substance misuse being housed with drug dealers, and of survivors of domestic abuse being housed with perpetrators of such abuse, as outlined in the Select Committee report, is very concerning.

We must boil the argument down to the basics. In a world where there is much talk about the disposable society, the commercial society and the desire to seek short-term happiness from the most temporary of means, there are occasions when we need to think about the basics of what we need to get through life. One of those basics is a safe and secure room where you can put your head down for the night and wake up refreshed to fight the next day.

One cannot help but be troubled by what we have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and other colleagues. However, there is hope, and I applaud everyone for shining an important light on this issue today. I am heartened by the will to put things right and to tackle the rogue landlords who appear to be exploiting the situation off the back of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

It is a great pleasure to contribute to this incredibly important and meaningful debate on an incredibly important and meaningful Bill, which has brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for whom I have great respect and who I have spoken to about many different policy issues.

The timing of today’s debate is very good because of the report published so recently by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. All Members have cases relating to exempt accommodation and supported living. We have vulnerable constituents contacting us who often do not have the support they need from those responsible for their buildings. I would add, however, that we also have examples of where providers have done a good job and are doing a good job, and they take their responsibilities very seriously. I have gone to those premises and spoken to those professionals in Ipswich, so I do not want to cast an entire group of people as somehow not acting in a way that is morally right. Many do. But ultimately, we are talking about a situation where the stakes are very high and we cannot afford to get it wrong.

When we are dealing with vulnerable individuals who may be the victims of domestic abuse, who may be getting over substance abuse, who may have just come out of prison or who may have mental health difficulties, the stakes of getting it wrong are incredibly high, so it seems to me that an overly light-touch approach is not the right approach. I am not an expert in this area, but this is a debate about how we can put in place more intelligent regulation to ensure we get it right for these vulnerable people. That is incredibly important, clearly, for the vulnerable individuals in question, but, as we have heard already today in contributions made by Members on both sides of the House, if we do not get it right it can also have negative consequences for the immediate community in the surrounding area.

In my own constituency of Ipswich, county lines has been a huge issue. A number of young people have lost their lives as a result of the evil that is county lines. If we have a situation where somebody has been living in that world and may be trying to get away from it, they need to have particular support. The consequences of not having that support could bring really negative community impacts to the immediate and surrounding area. So this is not just about doing what is right for individuals and giving them the support they need; it is also about the immediate community, so it is very important to get this right.

The Bill proposes both a national and local approach, with national standards and a national regulator, and an enhanced role for local authorities. It only seems right and proper that that is the case. It is vital to ensure regulation and accountability structures are in place for exempt accommodation and supported housing, so that if somebody does not get it right, they can be held to account and we can ensure change is implemented.

Earlier this week, the Levelling Up Secretary talked about how social housing tenants can be protected, which is also important. I have examples in Ipswich, particularly relating to Sanctuary Housing. I have a number of constituents I am currently working with. Only two months ago, I went to a property of a constituent in south-west Ipswich managed by Sanctuary Housing. To say that the condition of the flat was squalid would be an understatement. They had been messed around repeatedly by Sanctuary Housing. They had some time in a Premier Inn in Ipswich on the understanding that the property was being upgrade by Sanctuary Housing. They were told it had been completed, but when they returned they found that literally no work had been completed. So they were back out to the Premier Inn and then a Travelodge; this was constant, and it has blighted the life of my constituent and his young family for a long time. That is not the only example in Ipswich, so I welcome what the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities had to say about the ways in which such landlords should be held more to account.

As Conservatives, we believe in the free market, but our party is at its best when we are compassionate and we think about the most vulnerable in society. We are not always a party of regulation and not always a party that thinks that if there is a problem more regulation will solve it. However, there are occasions when smart regulation is needed, and not just on supported housing, exempt accommodation and social housing; there are other occasions when private management companies are taking decisions that are destroying the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

One example I wish to mention, which is connected to the general thrust of this debate, is what we are seeing in St Francis Tower in Ipswich, which is an issue I have raised on more than one occasion in this place through my own special debate, at Prime Minister’s questions and so on. That large building, a tower in the heart of Ipswich, has had cladding replaced, with remediation funds secured, but it has been covered in shrink wrap for well over a year. All the ambition, all the timescales and all the promises about the work being completed and the shrink wrap coming down have not been met. I have had many constituents, some of whom are vulnerable and not altogether that different from the vulnerable individuals in exempt accommodation that we have been talking about today, left in a situation where they have no natural light and where bars have been placed on the windows so that they cannot open them to get on to the structures around the tower block.

It is important that the Government broaden out this debate, from supporting vulnerable individuals at the accommodation we are talking about today and in social housing accommodation, to addressing examples of where vulnerable people are in private accommodation but those management companies still have a responsibility. When they do not meet the people they are responsible for halfway, they should also be held to account. As a Conservative party, we are at our strongest when we are compassionate and when we put in place sensitive but intelligent regulation to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not abused and are not let down—there are too many examples of where that is not happening.

I am not surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has done such a good job with this private Member’s Bill. He is a very experienced colleague, whose wisdom I try to secure—I try to learn from him often, when he allows me to experience some of his wisdom from time to time. Obviously he is very busy, as one of the most active local Members of Parliament, in his constituency. He inspires me with his legislative genius, his compassion for the most vulnerable, his relentless campaigning zeal and his ability to grow a network of engaged supporters. Perhaps one reason he is able to do that is that his constituents see things such as today; they see his diligence in suggesting small changes to regulation that can lift up the lives of some of the most vulnerable in not only his constituency, but the country.

I am not an expert in this matter, but I have enjoyed being able to make a small contribution to this free-flowing debate, which, in essence, is about how we can put in place regulation to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in our society get the support they need and are not let down. I welcome the fact that we have had positive and constructive contributions from Opposition Members during this debate. Quite what the legislation will look like in the end, I do not know, but I am confident that, in a general sense, we are moving towards a better situation when it comes to supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our constituencies.

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker—I have now spoken for over 10 minutes. I think that is probably enough and that you have all heard enough of what I have to say.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt)—they say that brevity is the mother of wisdom. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman); this is his second private Member’s Bill, and it is an excellent and incredibly timely piece of legislation. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) and for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) and the Minister for their work on this important Bill. I know that it has been a labour of love for them all.

I will admit a secret: I am a big fan of Friday sittings. I actually quite like them because we usually have a Bill like this that is born from somebody’s wisdom and understanding of a particular area of law. They attempt to address a single problem to facilitate an important change. We get to have a proper debate and to talk cross-party about the rights and wrongs of what is happening already, what can and cannot be done and where we go next. The Opposition naturally challenge that and ask us to go further, but we are given an opportunity to plug some gaps.

I will be honest: I have been thinking about housing a lot this week, for obvious reasons. We were all here for the statement about the tragic death of Awaab Ishak in Rochdale, the neighbouring constituency to mine. I have the same housing provider and, although this is not a debate on social housing, I will take a moment to develop my thinking on housing, because my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) touched on something very important: the role of housing in mental health, personal wellbeing and, as we saw, unfortunately, in that tragic case, physical wellbeing.

If we do not get simple things such as housing right, people’s lives can be utterly devastated. The reality is that there are people who are trapped in a system that simply has not been working properly. We assume that there are thousands of them, but the problem is that we do not have that data, as we have heard. For me, that is shocking. The fact that we consider it too expensive to collect data about what is happening to members of our society—including vulnerable people, people who rely on assistance and do not get it—is deeply concerning, to put it politely.

We have thousands of vulnerable citizens—whether they are people who have left prison or people who have mental health or physical health needs—who are reliant on a system that is simply not fit for purpose. Let me put on one of my many metaphorical hats as the chair of the all-party group on local government and as a recovering councillor, because I have some insight into the licensing world. Actually, I quite enjoyed reading the report from the HCLG Committee—sorry, the LUHC Committee. The names change almost as many times as the Ministers do these days—please do not note that down. The report highlighted some important areas where local government can do a great deal of good.

We are already well into the discussion about how we integrate health and social care, and housing is a really important part of that mix. Interestingly enough, when we talk about prison leavers, we say that the three things they need are a job, a home and a friend. A home is a really important part of that because it gives them stability and the means to access such things as work. We have a system where, essentially, scammers—slumlords—can trap people in worklessness and effective homelessness. They are being kept and are almost prisoners in the system.

I know from personal experience the good that local government can do. As an avowed Manchester liberal, I am slightly dubious about the idea that we need a national regulator. I would see that in the last instance. Personally, I would like to see local authorities sharing best practice. We saw a live example of that in the trial period, when Blackburn with Darwen unitary authority began communicating with its neighbours. As a unitary authority in Lancashire, I imagine that it has quite a lot of experience of doing that. It was a good example of best practice. We are also quite good at that in Greater Manchester. Well before the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, we had the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, so we were already talking to one another.

There will be ways to develop a framework. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) made the point that the regulatory framework might look different in different parts of the country. For example, it will look different in London from how it looks in Manchester. In rural communities, for example in Cornwall or Devon, it will have to take another form, but the underlying basic standards have to be there for everybody. It is about finding the right balance. When the Minister is summing up, will she give us some further thoughts on how this will be put in place?

On another note of caution, local government is extremely stretched and has been for a long time. Councils and council officers do a fantastic job, often with diminishing returns. I implore the Minister to ensure that, when we hand over these responsibilities to councils, they are properly funded. We will not find most local authorities wanting in their ability to deploy these skills, but, realistically, the pot has to have at least enough resource in it for them to discharge proper enforcement, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) mentioned in an earlier intervention.

I am certain that what we are debating here today is a necessary piece of legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich said, smart regulation is the way forward. The law should be a scalpel, not a machete. What we are trying to do here is to excise from this system the very worst people. The truth is that there are many organisations that are doing that very well and we want to encourage them. We want to have almost a gold standard for those people providing good quality housing—those people who can say, “Well, yes, we are licensed. We have met the conditions. You can feel safe and secure in my accommodation. When I say that I will provide support, it will actually be support.” It will not be—as we heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood)—just sticking their head round the door saying, “Are you alright?” when, quite frankly, they may not even have seen the individual in question. That is all to the good. Those providers will probably find that they have more influence and more agency with that regulatory framework. I am just very keen to make sure that it does not become too burdensome and too expensive for them to comply with it, so that good providers drop out of the market.

Most of the good points that could be made about this have been made, and I will not belabour the point because I know that this is a popular Bill. However, I do want to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that it is remarkable to secure a private Member’s Bill in the first place, but to have two must seem like good fortune. To do what he has done with them is impressive, and he can be extremely proud of what he is doing here today. I am sure that his constituents are, too. I am extremely proud to have been able to participate in the debate.

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson). I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for introducing this Bill, but in the top trumps of adulation, I do not think that I can compete with my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt).

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East is a proud champion of speaking up for the most vulnerable in society, and I pay tribute to him for all the work he has done in this area and for introducing this important Bill. I am really pleased that it has so much cross-party support, as it shows the importance of what he is doing. This House is at its best when we are united in the common good of trying to protect the most vulnerable in society.

I also welcome the Minister to her place, and I look forward to hearing from her later. What really resonated with me, as a vet and a scientist, was when my hon. Friend and other colleagues talked about the paucity of data in this area. If the data are not there, we just do not know what we are looking at. We can make good policy with evidence-based decisions, and we need the evidence out there. This debate today has highlighted the importance of that data collection.

It is clear that those who are protected by this Bill are among the most vulnerable in our society. I pay tribute to those across my constituency of Penrith and The Border who support the most vulnerable people. In the housing arena, I pay tribute to Eden Housing Association, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. I hope that the Bill complements the work of people up and down the land who are supporting the most vulnerable in society. At a time of economic crisis, when people’s livelihoods have been affected, forcing them to live from day to day, it is so important that we are putting forward good legislation to provide help in these troubling times.

I welcome the fact that the Bill will try to stamp out the awful practices that have been highlighted today of rogue landlords exploiting people. There have been some pretty harrowing examples from Members on both sides of the House, and it is so important that the Bill will clamp down on these practices and rid them from society. These people on benefits are really struggling, as are many people across the country. As we have heard today, this is a compassionate piece of legislation, and when we are driving Bills with cross-party support through the House, it is so important that compassion is at the heart of that. To get political, I welcomed the Conservative Government showing some of that compassion yesterday with measures in the autumn statement, and the fact that we are now uprating benefits in line with inflation is critical to that compassionate conservatism.

We have heard from many Members, including esteemed medical colleagues, about the mental health implications in the supported housing sector, and we have also heard about physical wellbeing. Something that has really resonated with me today is the mental health impact of the situations that these people find themselves in; that impact is lasting, profound and very damaging for them. The mental health stresses in this sector compound the trauma that many of these people have experienced, having faced domestic violence, homelessness and all other manner of challenges in their lives. If they are then challenged in their own homes, that exacerbates the awful problems in their lives.

In rural areas such as my constituency of Penrith and The Border in Cumbria, the factors that challenge mental health are compounded by rural isolation. I have pressed the Government to ensure that policy making reflects the challenges we face in different parts of the country. Rural communities often struggle to get the mental health support they need due to the long distances and poor connectivity, whether that is physical or virtual connectivity or even mobile phone signal. This is something I feel very strongly about. I sit on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I initiated an inquiry on rural mental health. We looked at some of the trigger factors for people in rural communities, and we found that challenges in the housing sector were among those.

The Bill has to be part of an holistic approach, to protect the most vulnerable in exempt accommodation. We have heard today about mental health, and I feel passionately that mental health needs to have parity of esteem with physical health. The two go hand in hand, and they need to be balanced together.

To segue into another issue, as a vet, I am passionate about animal health and welfare. As a dog owner, I know the impact that animals have on people’s lives and the importance of people being able to have animals in their accommodation. I have worked with Ministers on various types of legislation, and we want people in the rental sector to be able to have pets in their accommodation. Responsible pet owners should be allowed to have a pet, to give them that companionship and to help their mental health and the health of the animal. That is something we can move forward with.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the impact of animals on mental wellbeing. Does he agree that having an animal to provide that support is even more important in rural areas, where loneliness is such a big problem?

I very much agree with my medical colleague about the role of animals in society and in supporting us, and the support we can give to our animal friends, and that is pivotal in rural communities. We love animals in rural areas and in towns and cities. Our love for the animal world is something that unites us in humanity and across the Chamber.

I welcome the statutory requirement on local authorities to publish a strategy for supported housing, so that they can respond to the needs of their area. In rural areas such as my constituency, the importance of local councils and local democracy cannot be overstated. Local councils and parish councils are at the heart of these communities, in terms of community engagement and providing the key services on which we all rely daily.

I urge central Government to take care that the Bill’s statutory requirements on the Secretary of State at national level do not create inertia or an inability to act at local level. We have seen a bit of inertia in Cumbria with local government restructuring, as we move to two unitary authorities. Sadly, local democracy has ground to a halt as people jockey for position and decide who is in charge of which parts of the county. Parish councils are struggling to get things through, and grant applications are not being looked at. For local democracy, we have to make sure that we do not have inertia after decisions are made. This is a really good Bill and, when it gets on to the statute book with cross-party support, we need to make sure the process is lubricated.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) highlighting the lack of housing in rural areas, exacerbated by the upsurge in short-term holiday lets and Airbnb, which is also a critical issue for us up in Cumbria. I welcome the fact that the Government are listening to Back Benchers who have raised the lack of housing. In our rural communities, we see people being driven out of their local area because they cannot find rented accommodation, so I welcome the fact that Ministers are looking at this issue on a cross-departmental basis. There has been a consultation on short-term holiday lets, and I look forward to the Government working through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to make sure we have sensible legislation so that people in rural communities can live, work, study and have their kids go to school in their local community. I very much hope the Government move on that, too.

There is a huge impact on employers in rural Cumbria, as they are not able to attract staff to come and work in their pubs, restaurants and farms because of the lack of housing due to short-term holiday lets. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth has raised this issue, as have I in Cumbria and as have other colleagues from up and down the land. It is a key point, and I hope the Minister will look at it in parallel legislation.

Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East for bringing forward this Bill. I welcome the strong cross-party support, including from the Government, as the compassion at the heart of this Bill has my firm support.

I also start by commending my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for bringing forward this important Bill. He has worked exceptionally hard, alongside other colleagues, on its legislative journey.

Of course, this Bill will do so much to address the problems surrounding supported housing. We have heard today that some exempt accommodation in this country is, quite frankly, in a shocking condition for residents and occupants. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee produced a report revealing some of the horrendous conditions faced by residents, and I am pleased that the Bill aims to address some of those issues, including sexual harassment and violence by landlords under threat of eviction. There have been cases where staff and landlords have threatened residents, sold drugs to residents and been complicit in antisocial behaviour. We have to get to a position where the Government and the state enable these situations to be addressed.

Colleagues on both sides of the House have highlighted the challenge of county lines. I represent a community in Keighley that is challenged by drug misuse and drug distribution via county lines, which filter into some of the accommodation provided through exempt housing. The report also discovered that neighbourhoods with a lot of exempt housing attracted other issues with antisocial behaviour, to do with crime, vermin and so on, and that organisations without any experience might target victims of domestic abuse and their children without offering other specialist help or a suitable and safe setting. That is why this piece of legislation is really important.

Given all the examples that have been cited, it is absolutely vital that this House pass this piece of legislation. We need to tighten up regulations in this sector and ensure that those things are not allowed to continue. Of course, it is important to note that the Government have taken some steps to try to resolve the problems regarding supported exempt accommodation. From October 2020 to September 2021, DLUHC invested £5.3 million in five pilots in five local authorities, testing interventions to drive up quality and value for money. In the areas in which those pilots were carried out, it was shown that authorities were able to drive up the quality of accommodation and support residents; value for money was also improved through enhanced scrutiny of housing benefit claims. Through the pilots, it was possible to prevent some £6.2 million from being paid in error, which again goes to show why this Bill is so important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said in his speech, we will be able to get better efficiency regarding taxpayers’ money, as well.

If the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be, it will create a supported housing advisory panel, which is a huge step forward in ensuring that the sector is better supported. That panel’s mandate will be to offer information and guidance on supported exempt accommodation, as well as on their provision for regulation. The panel must comprise a broad range of individuals from the registered social housing providers, local housing authorities, social services authorities and non-profit organisations—all there to support the aims of the Bill. To pick up on some of the points that have been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) and for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), dealing with housing is all about looking at the wider things that are associated with it—it is also about health, social care and education. That is why the direction of the Bill is so important, in trying to deal with some of the challenges related to the conditions that currently exist in exempt housing that have already been identified by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The Bill will hopefully ensure further regulation of the sector through its call for local housing strategies, placing a duty on local housing authorities to review supported exempt accommodation in their districts in light of the findings of a published supported housing strategy. That illustrates why it is so important that local authorities talk to one another and share best practice. We have seen that in other pieces of legislation—I am thinking of the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), the Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Act 2022, which dealt with taxi licensing. That Bill was a mechanism of ensuring better sharing of dialogue and datasets between local authorities, so that we can drive good practice. This Bill will help in that area, too.

One of the key things I am really pleased about is that the Bill will strengthen and broaden the definition of “homeless”, so that we can help more people who find themselves in dire straits. The Bill amends section 191 of the Housing Act 1996—which sets out the conditions under which someone can be treated as intentionally homeless—to establish that where someone leaves supported exempt accommodation for reasons related to the standard of accommodation, care, support or supervision provided and that accommodation does not meet the national supported housing standards, that person will not be able to be treated as intentionally homeless. That is important. As has been said, it is unfortunate that we do not have enough datasets covering a long period of time to drive forward some of the positive benefits of the Bill. I hope the Government will recognise the point that data collection is key.

As we have all heard today, supported exempt accommodation is in dire straits. It needs to be sorted out, and I am sure the Bill will drive things forward to ensure that the next steps greatly improve the quality of provision. That will help all our constituents, and I am proud to support the Bill.

Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am normally called last!

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore), who made a thoughtful and insightful speech, and it is a pleasure to speak in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) mentioned in his introduction, he once promoted another private Member’s Bill that dealt with a very similar issue. I pay tribute to the work that he put into that first Bill, which made it all the way to becoming law—the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. It is tremendously satisfying for a Back Bencher to be involved in making laws in this way, especially when it is for such good reasons. Let me also welcome the Minister to her place: it is wonderful to be working with her, and I look forward to getting stuck in on multiple issues, not just this one.

Many people have been involved in getting my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East to this point, but I can say from the perspective of the Select Committee, of which I am a member, that a considerable debt is owed to the whistleblowers who have shone a light on the terrible conditions in which some people are living. As we have heard, some of the conditions to which they are subjected amount to what is effectively a gang environment, so those who come forward are doing something that is incredibly brave as well as incredibly useful. I also appreciate the work of the charities Shelter and Crisis and that of the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness, co-chaired by the my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East.

The work that has already been done is fantastic, but this debate is about the work going forward. The Bill is primarily aimed at dealing with rogue landlords and the regulation of supported exempt accommodation, and it will strengthen the enforcement powers that are available to local authorities, as was pointed out earlier by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). If passed, it will become the first piece of legislation to regulate directly the standard of support provided to residents of this kind of accommodation in England, which is no mean feat.

Currently, unscrupulous housing agencies are allowed to profit from the housing benefit system, and that is simply not right. There has been an increase in demand for supported housing—in fact, there has been an increase in demand for housing across the board—but at the same time, the exempt accommodation sector is in need of huge and urgent reform. Rogue landlords have been exploiting loopholes in the regulation, making obscenely huge profits while not ensuring that the accommodation they provide meets the standards that occupants deserve. Throughout the Select Committee’s inquiry, we encountered many cases in which rogue landlords are using exempt accommodation simply as a cash machine, and, as I mentioned in an intervention earlier, that can involve property deals that are international.

The scale of this problem is disgraceful. Landlords drive the rent high while pushing standards down, forcing marginalised, vulnerable people to live in unsafe, unfit housing. The system is so warped that—in my view—it aids organised crime. Indeed, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood used the word “gangsters”, and I agree with her. The Committee’s report describes the conditions in exempt accommodation as “beyond disgraceful”, and says that there has been a “complete breakdown” of the systems that should protect residents. The Bill will tackle these issues head-on. It will bar rogue operators from entering the market, while ensuring that action is taken against bad-faith actors. We should be clear, of course, that even though there are gangsters out there getting away with this, the vast majority of the operators in this sector are good people who are in it for good reasons: supporting the most vulnerable of our society. We need to be mindful of that and ensure that, in putting this legislation together, we do not get in their way. I will come later to how we can use this legislation to drive up standards in the sector as a whole and focus on sharing good practice.

However, we need to focus on driving out the bad behaviour, so this is about growing the quality of the provision and ensuring that those examples we have heard about today—of residents in cramped, inappropriate accommodation, often grouped with exactly the wrong type of person—can be resolved. We want to ensure that the growth of exempt accommodation in certain areas is managed, because of the impact on local communities. Again, that comes back to data; we need to understand where the exempt accommodation is and who is in it, which in turn will solve the problem of the lack of regulation, so that we can get a grip of the governance of the providers and stamp out the exploitation of the system by those unscrupulous landlords.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt), who is sadly no longer in his place, paid fulsome tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, but it is not just him who is full of admiration for our hon. Friend. Crisis has worked closely with him in the development of the Bill and it, too, is fulsome in its praise:

“Overall, this is about changing the national narrative and discourse around supported housing. Crisis knows how key exempt accommodation sector can be to helping people rebuild the lives so they don’t have to go back to rough sleeping.

When the system works well, people receive the support they need in accommodation that is suitable for them. This Bill will be vital toward ensuring that this can be achieved.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

Let us look at a few of the key measures in the Bill. It introduces a supported housing advisory panel, to be drawn from across the sector. That is important, because it is not just about the housing; it is about recognising the complex multiple needs of the people in the housing. They come from all areas of society—they can be refugees, care leavers, people with disabilities, people who have been previously homeless or sleeping rough, recovering drug addicts, victims of domestic abuse and, as the shadow Minister rightly pointed out, people recently released from prison. We know that in the critical 12-week period after release those people really need support and structure around them, helping them to turn their lives around and get on the straight and narrow.

So this is mostly about the needs of the people within the supported accommodation, but it is also about looking toward the demand. The local supported housing strategies would therefore place a duty on the local housing authorities in England to review the exempt accommodation in their districts and then publish those findings. That will help us to highlight the future needs and feed in that data, which we simply do not have at the moment and which will be so crucial to managing that issue as we go forward. Again, it will help us to identify and root out rogue operators.

Then we come to the national supported housing standards, which are the critical bit about identifying good practices, which are across the whole sector. Let me be clear again that there are some good people doing good things for good reasons and getting good outputs for the most vulnerable in our society in this sector.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful contribution. Something that has been highlighted today is that there is good practice in this sector. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr raised the point that people who are in the right place in this sector doing the right thing will engage with this legislation and then we can shine a spotlight on this best practice, which will really raise standards and drive out bad practice.

I could not agree more. The entire point is to identify those national standards and ensure that they are met, and the Bill does that in two ways. First, it legislates for the power to introduce the licensing scheme to support exempted accommodation. That is optional between districts, but it is an additional power. Further, it supports exempted accommodation that falls outside the definition in subsection 12(2), and includes a power to introduce licensing for that accommodation as well.

In the Select Committee, when we were scrutinising that question, I wondered whether that was perhaps regulatory overkill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) said:

“The law should be a scalpel, not a machete.”

However, the scale and complexity of the issue we are trying to deal with is so vast that we need a variety of tools within our locker. That is not to say that they will all be used at every point. Therefore, there is a good reason for putting in these licensing schemes and potentially following up with some form of compulsory registration, although I am sure we will come on to that in later stages of the Bill—sort it out in the Lords, as I have heard before.

We know that we will have the powers to put that scheme together and that the licensing scheme can work with a system of compulsory registration, but the most important and critical factor in what could potentially be a bureaucratic Frankenstein of a piece of legislation is that it works with other Acts. It works together with the Housing Act and the forthcoming Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, so there is a neat legislative fit, filling in those cracks in the legislation that are being used as loopholes by unscrupulous landlords to scam their way into making a fortune from the most vulnerable in our society.

It is a pleasure to follow the excellent and thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). Along with all my colleagues, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on bringing this Bill to the House and on all the work he has done. I recognise the work of the Select Committee and express gratitude for being part of this important debate.

It is also a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who captured the mood of this debate when she said that debates and subjects such as this show that all of us across the House care about how we can support those in most need and how we can all make a positive difference to vulnerable people in our constituencies. She was absolutely right about that.

There are big questions to answer about how we can best support those who may have made mistakes or suffered misfortune in their lives, but, at a very simple level, how can we possibly expect anybody to rebuild their life without the basic requirement of adequate shelter? I welcome this Bill, because it will improve the quality of supported housing and improve governance at both local and national level. It will also ultimately improve taxpayer efficiency, by providing the means for people to live more independently of the state.

No matter what a person’s background, condition or circumstances, we in this place have a duty to ensure that quality accommodation and care is the baseline. We should acknowledge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) rightly did, the Government’s work to date in this area. I acknowledge the national statement of expectations in 2020, which set out minimum standards guidance for supported housing. It set out, for example, that housing should be accessible and be assessed by local council commissioners and that housing staff should be trained. The National Housing Federation endorsed and supported that guidance, but the Bill clearly builds significantly on that work to date, and quite right too.

In the many excellent speeches today we have heard examples of terrible things happening in this area. Landlords are still providing unacceptable housing. New residents are still being placed with unsuitable co-residents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East pointed out, and some accommodation is not fire safe, frankly. I warmly welcome this Bill and, in particular, three measures: the introduction of a supported housing advisory panel makes a ton of sense; the requirement for local authorities to review exempt accommodation and publish a supporting housing strategy is something we all completely agree with; and then we have the powers given to the Secretary of State to make licensing regulations for exempt housing.

This is an excellent Bill. I am not surprised that it will go through today with cross-party support. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend. If I can build on the praise that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) set out, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has shown that if a Member acts with strong purpose in this job, they can, with the right energy, drive real change. He showed it in 2017 with his Homelessness Reduction Act. He has shown it through his tremendous work to build relations between the UK and India, for which he has received one of India’s highest civilian honours. He is the only person I know with a Padma Shri. I am also very familiar with his campaigning for a smoke-free England. I am greatly proud to share these Benches with him.

I call the shadow Minister, Matthew Pennycook. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon; I did not know that the hon. Gentleman had already spoken. I am sorry I missed his speech. I call the Minister, Felicity Buchan.

I start by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on his incredibly important Bill reaching Second Reading. I pay tribute to everything he has done to get the Bill to Second Reading and for everything he has done in the sector. It is great to see members of his team in the Gallery, and his wife was also there earlier—it was so great to see her.

I pay tribute to my predecessors, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who is on the Front Bench with me as the Lord Commissioner of His Majesty’s Treasury. It is great to see him here. I also pay tribute to everyone else who has worked so hard on the Bill, including the Select Committee, Crisis and the councils that worked on our pilot projects.

I pay tribute to the thoughtful contributions from so many Back Benchers, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), who I know has worked intensively in the sector. On my Benches, we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), for Bosworth (Dr Evans), for Ipswich (Tom Hunt), for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt), who is on the Select Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), and that is not to miss out the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones).

The matter we are here to discuss is one of the utmost seriousness and importance to the Government. I am pleased to confirm that the Government fully support the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, and I look forward to continuing to work together with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and Opposition Members to get the Bill through Committee and to get these crucial and necessary measures into law.

As many hon. Members have said, when done well, supported housing provides a safety net for people who require help to live independently or need help in transitioning to mainstream housing. It is also a crucial factor in reducing rough sleeping and homelessness, and in reducing pressure on health and social care services. It is a better alternative to institutional care and prevents poor outcomes such as homelessness and delays in leaving hospital.

The many good supported housing providers must not be lumped in with the rogue landlords that I and many hon. Members want out of the sector. But, unfortunately, as we have heard, there are some rogue landlords, and it is completely unacceptable for their abuse of the supported housing system to continue. To them, I say that their time is up.

Through the Bill and subsequent regulations, we intend to drive out substandard providers. It is intolerable that certain landlords are trying to profit at the expense of vulnerable people. The Government’s priority will always be to protect the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens. We will prevent disreputable landlords from exploiting people who find themselves living in accommodation that is poor and, at times, of dangerous quality and lacking in safety and security. People in supported housing have a right to be treated with decency and respect, to have their needs properly assessed and to receive proper, tailored support. We will ensure that residents of supported housing can be confident in the standard of both their accommodations and their support. Driving up standards is crucial, given the wider repercussions that the worst of the shoddy accommodation can have both on the individuals living there and on surrounding communities.

As we have heard, neighbourhoods that experience high concentrations of poorly managed supported housing can become a magnet for antisocial behaviour and criminal activity. On Tuesday, I visited Coventry and met senior council officers and councillors. I heard about the wide range of supported housing, from the very good to the unacceptable, and about how they are working to help substandard providers to get up to scratch. Coventry will be one of the recipients of our supported housing investment programme. In Coventry, I also had the opportunity to meet people who had previously experienced homelessness but have benefited from good quality supported housing services, which have helped them to move on with their lives. I was struck by the impact that that has made on an individual level. It underlined the significant difference that this type of housing can make to people’s lives.

Let us not forget that the financial benefit gained by substandard providers rests on exploitation of the rules on housing benefit, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood explained. Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions agree that it is totally unacceptable for large amounts of public money to be paid out in housing benefit to rogue landlords who are gaming the system and doing little or nothing to support vulnerable residents. We must do all we can to ensure that vulnerable residents get the support that they need and that standards are driven up. We must also ensure that better value for money is delivered for taxpayers.

A key issue is how we can align measures in the Bill with any changes to housing benefit regulations, to stop those who are gaming the system being able to do so. At the same time, we will ensure that the measures set out in the Bill are implemented and deployed proportionately. It is crucial that we avoid unintended consequences in the sector, and also avoid placing unnecessary burdens on the many good providers out there.

The Government have already acted to tackle rogue landlords. In October 2020, we published the national statement of expectations, setting out the Government’s vision for the planning, commissioning, and delivering of good quality accommodation in supported housing. In the same month, we launched the supported housing pilots. Between October 2020 and September 2021, we funded five local authorities with a total of £5.4 million to explore ways of improving quality and value for money in the supported housing sector, particularly in exempt accommodation.

We have continued to build on the success of the pilots. Last week we announced that we are funding 26 local authorities, including the five that took part in the pilots, through a supported housing improvement programme, awarding £20 million to some areas of the country most affected by problems with supported housing. That programme sends a clear message to unscrupulous providers that the Government will not tolerate poor-quality support, the exploitation of vulnerable people, or abuse of the supported housing system. This Government are sending a clear message: time is up for rogue landlords who take money from the taxpayer while exploiting vulnerable people.

Despite the success of the pilots, and enhancing the ability of other local authorities to begin to tackle this issue, we recognised that more is needed to drive out the unscrupulous profiteers. That is why in March this year we announced our intention to bring in standards for supported housing, including powers for local authorities to manage supported housing in their area, and to seek to make changes to housing benefit regulations.

I thank the Minister for the reassurances she has given the House. Does she agree that this may not be a silver bullet, and is she confident that she will continue to keep an eye on this brief, in case there are unintended consequences or, more importantly, other things we may need to do in the future to ensure that this bad behaviour is stamped out?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We must continue to monitor this sector. Enforcement is important, as is consultation. We must get the regulations right because we want to target unscrupulous landlords, not the good providers. We had a written statement at the beginning of the year, and it very fortuitous that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East chose this issue for his private Member’s Bill. It is an excellent opportunity to take forward the necessary legislation to make this happen, deliver on that commitment, and build on the action that the Government have already taken. Once the measures set out in the Bill are implemented, there will for the first time be a set of national supported housing standards, issued by the Government, and a licensing scheme that local authorities can deploy, so that all residents and providers of supported housing know what good-quality accommodation and support is, giving confidence to residents and landlords alike.

Helping to oversee the implementation of the Bill will be the supported housing advisory panel, and I welcome this provision. The panel will bring together key players in the sector to advise and work in partnership with the Government. The board will be able to provide challenge, help with direction and hold us to account as we move to deliver the measures in the Bill. As many Members have alluded to, it will also help us to build a body of data and information at local and national level, which I agree is of the utmost import.

The Bill will require all local authorities in England to put in place supported housing strategies, which will help them to better understand their local supported housing market. The supported housing oversight pilots demonstrated that strategic planning is a valuable tool that enables local authorities to assess the type and stock of provision in their area, estimate the need for supported housing and look to future requirements.

While strategic planning is an essential tool that will provide greater intelligence and data on supported housing, it will not eradicate the problems with rogue providers. Hard enforcement is required, and that is where the licensing regime suggested in the Bill comes in. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has been clear—and I completely agree—that, where licensing requirements are not met, penalties should apply. I am pleased to see that the powers in the Bill allow us to make provision for that in the licensing regulations.

The Bill enables regulations to be made so that local authorities will require providers of supported housing to obtain a licence to operate in their area. Providers will need to meet conditions on the adequacy and suitability of accommodation and on the support services set out in national standards, and they will also need to pass a fit and proper person test, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood raised.

The Government believe that action to stop the problems in supported housing needs to be taken as quickly as possible. We will launch a formal consultation on measures in the Bill as quickly as possible following Royal Assent. I commit today at the Dispatch Box to laying regulations for the licensing regime within 18 months of the Bill being passed.

Providers will need to demonstrate that they are meeting national supported housing standards. Those standards will look at the quality of accommodation and the quality of care, support or supervision that people are receiving. I am pleased to say that my officials have already been working closely with the sector on what those standards might include, but it will be a complex task, and we will consult widely to ensure we get it right and do not place undue burdens on providers that are already providing excellent services to residents.

I thank the Minister for that excellent update. After that consultation with the industry, will she commit to share with the relevant local authorities best practice in other parts of the country, so that they do not need to reinvent the wheel?

That is a very important point. We will have national standards. We will also have best practice guidelines, so that local authorities throughout the country can adopt those practices.

How people become residents of supported housing is an important aspect of this work. It is unacceptable that disreputable providers are advertising on Gumtree and Twitter and taking advantage of vulnerable people who are experiencing a crisis in their lives for their own profit. Referral pathways into supported housing are a very important issue and one we will look at as part of the introduction of the Bill.

We will, of course, be consulting on what national supported housing standards might include and how the licensing regime will work. We will ensure that people living in supported housing have the opportunity to have their views heard, as well as providers of supported housing, local authorities and other stakeholders. I know there is concern in the sector around the types of supported housing scheme that licensing requirements will apply to. To that end, we will be able to make provision for exemptions from the requirement to apply for a licence. The Government will take great care with that and, where we are convinced that other satisfactory oversight arrangements already exist and that the risk of exemptions being exploited is low, we will set out which specific types of housing are exempt.

Many Members discussed housing benefit. As I said, DWP Ministers are also keen to see an end to this exploitation, and we welcome the fact that the Bill makes it clear that the interaction between licensing and housing benefit regulations will be carefully considered as details of the licensing regime are developed. As with the other licensing requirements, we will consult fully on that.

Many Government Members talked about the need to improve national data. The Government already have research under way to provide an up-to-date estimate of the size and cost of the supported housing sector across Great Britain, as well as estimates of future demand. In addition, DWP has made changes to the way local authorities provide housing benefit data on supported housing claims, which will ensure that over time we have better data on exempt accommodation, which relates to the point raised by the hon. Member for Croydon Central.

I want to spend a few minutes talking about the intentionally homeless provision in the Bill. Members will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East brought forward the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. That important legislation placed a duty on local authorities to try to prevent and relieve a person’s homelessness. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will agree that should vulnerable people find themselves in poor quality supported housing, they should not be afraid to challenge their landlord. Where this leads to adverse consequences, people in that position should be able to look to their local authority for help. The Bill also sets out that a person will not be treated as intentionally homeless if they are leaving supported exempt accommodation because of the poor quality of the accommodation or the poor quality of the support, and that the accommodation and support

“does not meet National Supported Housing Standards.”

This will ensure that residents feel confident in leaving poor quality supported housing provision and challenging those landlords who are not providing the accommodation and support that we expect.

Before I conclude, I want to pick up on a few points that were raised by Members. My opposite number, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) asked my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East why there were “mays” as opposed to “musts” in the Bill. I just want to address that. I want to be clear that we are required to consult on the regulations. We do need to make a progress report within 12 months. As I have said at the Dispatch Box, I am today making a firm commitment to lay the regulations within 18 months. I believe that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich alluded specifically to clause 5 being drafted as “may”, but that is because it deals with the consultation, so we want to allow for flexibility to form the most appropriate regulations.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood talked about the necessity for a fit and proper person clause. As I have already mentioned, there is one in clause 5(2). I reassure her that the Department for Work and Pensions has committed to defining “care,” “support” and “supervision” to improve the quality of that care, support and supervision, and to ensure that taxpayers get value for money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge talked about the importance of having a link with integrated care systems. I assure him that my officials are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, which will be very much involved in developing the advisory panel and the strategies and regulations we put in place. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth also mentioned that, and I see him nodding.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton asked about money being made available to local authorities. I reassure him that there will be an assessment under the new burdens doctrine. Local authorities will be compensated if it is determined that they have new burdens. I also reassure him that the licensing regime will be a fee-paying scheme, so its ongoing operation should be self-funding.

A number of Members talked about the importance of national consistency. As I said, we will have a national standard and there will be guidance. A few Members raised the possibility of a national regulator, and the advisory panel will clearly have it within its remit that it can advise the Secretary of State.

This is a very important Bill, and it is only too clear that poor-quality supported housing is having a very real and harmful impact on certain vulnerable people in parts of the country. I express my gratitude to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee for its report and recommendations, to which the Government will formally respond in due course.

I said at the outset that the Government fully support the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, and I repeat our support here. We must work together to drive up standards and to make it clear that time is up for rogue providers who take public money while failing vulnerable people.

With the leave of the House, I would like to respond to the debate. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

At the outset, the aim of this Bill is to ensure that vulnerable residents in supported housing are provided with proper support and care where they need it, and to drive out the bad providers. As such, we have had to strike a balance in the Bill as we do not want to burden the good providers with excessive regulation at a time when they are struggling to make ends meet.

One of the gaps that several colleagues have emphasised is the lack of data about the number of supported housing units and their extent. One reason why the Bill has many “may” provisions that enable the Secretary of State to introduce regulation is precisely so that we can get the data and take the necessary action so that we do not drive the good providers out of the market while driving out the poor providers who are exploiting vulnerable people.

There are two levels of regulation in the Bill. There is the regulation of providers. One issue that we discovered on our visit to Birmingham was that a voluntary scheme had been introduced, but, of course, the good providers register for the voluntary scheme, and the bad providers do not. That is why we need to make the licensing arrangements appropriate and mandatory. That is a key issue that must be looked at as we take these measures forward in regulation. We should be clear that this Bill is a start; it will require a huge amount of regulation to be introduced on the back of it. As my hon. Friend the Minister has said, there will be a great deal of consultation with the sector to make sure that we get this right. The benefit of that is that it enables the Government to be more nimble if these bad providers try some other tricks. Therefore, we can change the regulations accordingly.

I thank the 13 hon. Members who spoke in the debate. At some stages, they were competing over their fulsome praise for me. Just to update the House, I have now entered my 37th successive year of directly elected representation. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] One benefit of doing that as a councillor and an MP is that one can specialise in particular areas and bring expertise where, possibly, Ministers keep changing.

I sincerely thank all hon. Members for their contributions. Many points were raised during the debate and I will be looking at them subsequently, so that, as we take the Bill through Committee, we can look at whether there is a need for any changes in the legislation and, equally, whether we are striking the right balance. I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), and the Opposition for their support of the Bill. We need to take the Bill forward on a cross-party basis, because that will enable us to demonstrate to these rogue landlords that, really and truly, their time is up and that they should get out of the market now, so that we can make sure that the innocent people, who just need our help and assistance, are given what they need, which is the ability to rebuild their lives in a safe and secure environment. I hope that the House will pass the Bill, so that we get on to the Committee stage to look at it in much more detail.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).