Experts on exempt: from policy-makers, providers and people with lived experience

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Exploitation, injustice and profiteering: the exempt accommodation sector has rarely been far from the headlines in recent times.

But the non-commissioned supported housing model isn’t a lost cause, it provides invaluable support for some of the most vulnerable people in society and with a joined-up approach, meaningful reform will help improve the lives of thousands.

Following on from the research funded by Commonweal Housing and conducted by Spring Housing Association and the University of Birmingham, we launched a new webinar series:

Experts on exempt: from policy-makers, providers and people with lived experience

We investigated the ongoing issues at hand, why saving the sector is so important, and how we can deliver collective reform that ends the exploitation of people and profit.

We heard from some of the industry’s most influential experts, housing providers, those with lived experience, and leading policy-makers including from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Please share this page with any other parties that may be interested in the exempt accommodation sector.


The reality of the problem from those that have experienced it

When the spotlight shines on supported housing, it tends to focus on the dangerous, insecure housing that vulnerable people are subjected to, and rightly so. But there is another significant concern: that of the system. How did it get like this? And who has the power to change it?

Catch up on our opening session where we heard from Thea Raisbeck, leading expert on exempt accommodation and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Birmingham, who spoke of the macro-issues facing the sector such as accountability deficits, the need for planning reform and changes to Housing Benefit rules. While our expert by experience, Sarah, told the audience of the first-hand issues she faced when living in supported housing.

This was an unmissable start to fantastic and highly informative series.


Reform not abolition: why we need supported housing

Exempt accommodation plays a vital role in accommodating some of the most vulnerable people in the country: abolishing the exempt status will have dire consequences on thousands. Rather, now is the time for an urgent rethink on how we can reform and improve the sector.

And who better to lead this discussion than the government department in charge. We had the great privilege to host Cathy Page, Head of Housing with Care and Support at the newly named Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to offer invaluable insight into the steer the government is taking on exempt accommodation and its commitment to delivering a viable model that works for people and providers.

We were also delighted to hear from Catherine Ryder, Director of Policy and Research at National Housing Federation, on why we must fight for a better, fairer sector and how the NHF is already beginning to put those wheels in motion.


Regulation and Charter of Rights: how to better protect tenants and prevent exploitation

Residents rarely, if ever, have a say or control over their standards of living and their surroundings. But that’s beginning to change with Birmingham City Council pioneering new initiatives such as the Charter of Rights and to tell us all about it was Guy Chaundy, Senior Manager Housing Strategy at the Council. The Regulator for Social Housing has also taken great strides with its current powers and will shortly have a greater role in regulating consumer standards, but by the admission of Jonathan Walters, Deputy Chief Executive, the RSH lacks the proactive powers it needs to really clamp down on the poor providers, but as he suggests, the tide is beginning to turn.


Why a reformed exempt sector should be an attractive investor proposition

There is little doubt that the sector is troubled by exploitation and capitalisation of public money, but with fair and diligent regulation, the exempt accommodation sector should be a fruitful social investment able to provide fair returns meeting an ongoing housing need.

One organisation that is demonstrating this is Spring Housing, and we heard from Rachel Chiu, Director of Business Development at Spring, on what a positive, fair model looks like. We also heard from author and founder of the popular Supported Housing Blog, Michael Patterson, who offered incredible insight into how we must transform exempt accommodation to be value-driven and focusing far more on the needs of clients.


So what next? The challenges and solutions

We concluded our series by seeking solutions. Cllr James Jamieson, Chair of the Local Government Association, suggested that increased powers for local authorities particularly around the quality of the accommodation and support provided and to ensure that rents remain reasonable. While independent Housing Benefit practitioner Andy Thurman wanted urgent action to clamp down on improperly high rents but noted that the need for caution. The sector, as he suggested, has to get this right.

Commonweal Housing is to continue its efforts in raising awareness of the exempt accommodation issue, and crucially, probe stakeholders across the industry to get a better sense of what we can all do to deliver a system that works for people and providers, and ends the exploitation and profiteering practices that has endured for too long.

If you want to get involved, share your own views or experiences, or hear more about the exempt accommodation sector and our work, contact