Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:46 am on 18th November 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 9:46 am, 18th November 2022

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The example he cites is, of course, of millions of pounds. Not small amounts of money but millions of pounds are going offshore as a result of this issue.

Another common theme in the report was the neglect of interest in residents’ previous circumstances. We found, more often than not, that when domestic abuse survivors find their way into the hands of these rogue operators rather than specialist domestic abuse services, there is a real risk that they end up living in the same building as the perpetrator—literally the person who abused them in the first place. I am sure the whole House will agree that that is completely inappropriate and insensitive. Housing victims with potential abusers is hugely damaging and will have the reverse effect of the original intention of supported housing, which is, after all, to help people rebuild their lives.

If I may, I will share a short extract from the report on one tenant’s experience with a rogue provider. They say that their accommodation was

“managed by what could possibly be called gangsters, who would scare tenants at various times for various reasons, often for no reason. They were sometimes drunk and they were untrained for their roles. They were abusive, intimidating and preyed on the vulnerable…tenants were abused physically and mentally, but nothing was done.”

That quote is from someone who gave evidence to us and was a very brave individual to do so. The report goes on to cover the aforementioned issues in more detail and justifies the need for a Bill to regulate such scandalous plights.

I have already touched on the lack of data and documentation on providers, which is caused solely by the lack of regulation or previous acknowledgement of the issue. I therefore wish to explain how I found the relevant information needed to create a full picture in order to formulate the Bill. The journey began with multiple meetings with Crisis, which as we all know is a wonderful housing charity, to discuss its experience of working around exempt accommodation and those who have been subjected to harsh environments with inadequate support. It held a similar concern that it was a rapidly growing problem that until then was not receiving the political attention that it needed at national level.

The various Crisis skylights also enabled me to meet some brave and willing people with lived experience in such organisations. It was truly shocking to hear the impact that conditions had had on them and the further difficulties they had caused. That was disheartening, considering that those people had sought help and, in theory, the supported accommodation should have helped them back to normality rather than being a preventive barrier, as was the case. I am grateful to have met those people, who have been whistleblowers for the greater good. It takes a lot of courage to come forward, particularly when the providers know intimate details about them, which could easily be used against them by such manipulative bullies.

Understandably, many local authorities have taken a vested interest in the Bill throughout its journey. I have received many representations from local authorities up and down the country, which has enabled me to meet regularly with authorities from all over the country to discuss and address potential concerns arising from the sector and potential regulation. The consensus arising from those conversations was that the spiralling knock-on effects from merely one rogue provider in a district can be huge, whether from increased antisocial behaviour, prolonged claiming of housing benefit, or mental or physical health issues arising for residents.

I was saddened that, due to the dreaded conference cold, I was forced to miss the exempt accommodation conference held by Birmingham City Council in October. Colleagues have reliably informed me that it was an informative, eye-opening and productive series of discussions that has undoubtedly helped to align our goals and provide further weight to the case for a change in the law. Housing providers, and more widely housing representative boards, have engaged regularly on this issue through roundtables, private meetings and other such correspondence.

From the very beginning, I have been clear that one thing I did not want to bring about with the Bill was over-regulation or a negative impact on good providers. I have thus far concentrated on the dark side of exempt accommodation, but I am clear that we need to stress that that is not the only side. There are countless providers who do a really good job, offering high-calibre accommodation with attentive, benevolent care and providing vulnerable people with assistance. For some, they provide a helping hand to get residents back on their feet and live independently. For others with long-term needs, they provide a permanent supported home. They should also be able to carry on their good work with minimal implications from regulation and minimal additional costs. Having liaised with many representatives, interested parties and boards, we have collectively reached that intended objective.

There is also a third group: providers who entered the market without understanding what is expected of them, or providers whose services are not up to scratch but want to stay in the business and improve. We are committed to ensuring that they get the support they need to improve and develop their services.

Moving on to my parliamentary comrades, many Members, particularly those centred in the west midlands, have direct casework relating to the provision of exempt accommodation. Their views and perspectives have offered me an advantageous insight into the wider impact or consequences of supported housing from a greater perspective, and into what they believe are the most appropriate measures to combat such problems. I am humbled to see so many here today to support the Bill on Second Reading.

There is no doubt that we are all far too aware of the turbulent political climate in recent months leading up to this point. The Bill has outlived two Ministers and I am pleased to see two of them here today. Regrettably, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North is unable to be with us this morning, but I look forward to his support as we go forward. We are on the third Minister, who I welcome to her place on the Front Bench. I look forward to hearing her reply to the debate in due course. That has caused a number of setbacks as we have tried to ensure we have agreement with the Minister and officials, but, to a certain extent, it has been advantageous because have had three separate and hugely valuable contributions from Ministers.