Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill

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

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

I thank the hon. Member for that contribution. We have indeed engaged with DWP Ministers. We believe, and it is mentioned in the report, that literally millions of pounds could be saved by preventing rogue landlords from getting away with what they are getting away with. However, the data does not exist. One issue she may be aware of is that covering more than one Government Department when one is presenting a private Member’s Bill is a big risk, to put it mildly, but she is absolutely right that we need to look at that issue. We believe there is a huge amount of money to be saved for the public purse, which could then be directed to help those vulnerable people in the first place.

Let me begin with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North, who is extremely well versed in this topic. He has a background in local government, worked for an accommodation provider—a charity—and was chairman of the Walsall Housing Group, so it was a pleasure to meet him on multiple occasions to discuss the initial plans. Although we did not always agree, he gave constructive feedback on what needed to be done.

Moving on to my right hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, his vastly impressive portfolio in various ministerial positions provided favourable advice on ensuring that the Bill was appropriate for Government support and encompassed the necessary points to help secure success and, in turn, Royal Assent. I hope that, with such support, that will be true of my Bill.

I warmly welcome the most recent Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. She has only recently come into post, but I thank her for her efficiency and productive inputs on a host of matters relating to the publication of the Bill and to get us to this point today— is certainly in order here.

I will briefly explain the Bill’s intentions and clauses. Clause 1 provides for a supported housing advisory panel. That requires the Secretary of State to set up a panel of representatives from across the entirety of the supported housing sector. That may include, but is not limited to: registered providers, local authorities, social services, charities and residents of supported housing organisations. The panel will have an independently appointed chair, who will be expected to provide advice, counsel and guidance on matters directed by the Secretary of State. Panel members are appointed for a five-year term and may be elected for a maximum of two terms.

The Bill then moves on to local housing strategies to combat unscrupulous providers. Local housing authorities, including lower-tier councils, unitaries, metropolitans and London boroughs, will be required to review all examples of supported housing in their district and to publish a strategy every five years. That review should include a needs assessment and the consideration of future availability. The Bill entitles social services to co-operate with such reviews and have involvement in the future strategy. I hope that requirement will address the significant lack of data on the whole sector and help to shape future developments in the area. We should remember that there are often two contracts in place: one for the rent and one for support for residents who need help.

The Secretary of State may seek to publish a set of nationally supported housing standards that lay down minimum standards on accommodation and care support supervision. Those must be kept under constant review as circumstances regularly change, as happened during the recent pandemic, for example. Following meetings with the Minister and officials from her Department, I positively anticipate that the Government will choose to exercise this power because it builds on the previous commitment in the March 2022 statement to introduce nationally supported housing standards. Those standards will help us to get to grips with the third group of providers I mentioned: those that are not up to scratch at the moment but are ready to improve. As I said, for most reputable providers those standards should reflect what they already do and should not pose them a concern.

That brings me to the clauses on licensing regulations. The Secretary of State may make regulations on which accommodation, as defined in clause 12(2), has to be licensed. There is no binding time constraint on the Government to make the regulations in the Bill, and it is fair to say that there has been detailed discussion of that.