The true scale of people dying at the hands of exploitative landlords requires urgent attention
Harrowing figures from the annual homeless count from the Museum of Homelessness paint a bleak picture of the reality facing vulnerable homeless people, with someone now dying every 6.5 hours on average.
Last year, 1,313 people died while homeless across England and Wales. This is a 20 percent increase on the previous year when the Government’s Everyone In programme offered homeless people a roof over their heads during the Covid-19 pandemic, and an 85 percent rise on the number recorded four years ago.
Most shockingly, almost all (83 percent) of deaths reported last year happened while people lived in some form of homelessness accommodation rather than rough sleeping. For the first time, this year’s count also separately collected figures relating to exempt accommodation. These damming figures found 151 people died while living in exempt accommodation – the underregulated form of supported housing exempt from Housing Benefit caps.
Only 12 local authorities held figures relating to exempt accommodation, limiting the data. However, of those who responded, nearly three-quarters of the total deaths occurred in Manchester. The city reported a staggering 109 people died across 98 properties, compared to 21 deaths amongst the rest of the homeless population in Manchester – a five-fold difference.
Exempt accommodation is supposed to provide secure housing for people with support needs, such as prison leavers, survivors of domestic abuse, rough sleepers, and refugees. However, as confirmed by the cross-party Levelling Up Housing Communities (LUHC) Committee inquiry report, the current system of exempt accommodation is a “complete mess”, failing vulnerable people at the expense of the taxpayer.
It’s important to note areas with high numbers of people living in exempt accommodation did not provide information to the Museum of Homelessness. Notably, Birmingham – the oft-described epicentre of exempt accommodation – refused to share this information. As of May last year, Birmingham surpassed more than 22,000 people in exempt housing.
Likewise, according to data from the London Assembly Housing Committee, across 22 London boroughs, 17,100 households are in exempt accommodation, with the number increasing. However, of the 12 councils, only two London Boroughs provided data.
Areas with a high number of people living in exempt accommodation missing from the count indicate these figures are the tip of the iceberg, pointing to a much larger number of people across the country suffering at the mercy of exploitative landlords.
Emergency or supported housing is supposed to provide respite and a foothold out of homelessness. But instead, as highlighted by the latest figures, individuals are forced to endure a room in an unregulated, dangerous market with little to no support to help rebuild their lives.
The past year has seen strides taken in reforming exempt accommodation. But while progress is being made, it’s clear the sector still requires urgent attention.
The upcoming Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, provides the framework and expectation for local authorities to manage and oversee the state and scale of exempt accommodation provision – a key recommendation Commonweal has long been campaigning for.
However, the likely true scale at which people are dying while living in exempt accommodation highlights the difficult nature of regulating the system. While some providers operate appropriate services and provide suitable housing, for too long, a lack of transparency and regulation has enabled exploitative landlords to profiteer of trapping individuals in cramped and dangerous housing without the necessary support.
Last week the Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords, with support from both sides. This is a positive step in achieving much-needed change across the sector. However, in order to drive out unscrupulous landlords, the Government must ensure they grant the necessary funds to implement their new powers.
Behind each figure from the Museum of Homelessness is a vulnerable person severely let down by the current system. They represent the severity of the issue and the urgency of implementing the right oversight that ends the exploitation of people for profit.