Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:33 am on 18th November 2022.

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Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood National campaign co-ordinator 10:33 am, 18th November 2022

Would that it were that easy. My experience of rogue landlords is that the worst really do act like a bunch of gangsters. Going after one will send a message to some of the others, but we need to close down all of the routes into the system. As I say, unfortunately, these are enterprising individuals; if they put their enterprising skills to good uses, we would probably welcome their contribution to our national life, but they are currently abusing the system, and abusing people while doing so. Until we close down all the avenues for abuse, we will still get rogue individuals thinking, “That’s a bit of easy money.”

In some parts of the country—I strongly suspect it has happened in a few cases in Birmingham—such lax regulation is providing ample opportunity for those involved in other criminal acts effectively to launder their money and pose as respectable citizens running housing associations. We know that that is part of what is happening in this sector across the country, so we need to push the Government—collectively, I hope; cross-party in this House—to bring forward national measures. That is why I will fight the cause for a national regulator come what may, because that is ultimately the proper answer to this problem.

As well as securing the quality of exempt accommodation nationally, the Government also have a responsibility to ensure that the taxpayer is getting value for money and that the money being spent in this sector is doing what we all believe it should be doing. In Birmingham, there are more than 21,000 providers of exempt accommodation accessing the higher rates of housing benefit that are available. This equates to millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, but currently there is no way of knowing how much is being claimed by each provider, or whether providers are upholding their commitments and providing support to the tenants. The hon. Member for Harrow East made similar points.

The Government have been aware for at least a decade that robust information about exempt accommodation is not held centrally, but they still do not collect even basic data to understand the levels of housing benefit being spent within the exempt accommodation sector. When I asked the Department in December 2021 how much money is being spent on this sector, it simply responded that it was too costly to collect that information. I would say that it is too costly not to collect it given the abuse we have seen occur. As the Select Committee noted, the Government have been caught sleeping:

“The Government has no idea how much taxpayer money is spent on exempt accommodation, nor what this money is spent on.”

Again in my constituency, we have seen the emergence of what are called ghost tenancies, whereby a managing agent or a registered provider is claiming enhanced rates of housing benefit for an occupant who has already vacated a property, or who in some cases never lived in the property in the first place. We just have to clamp down on all this abuse, and good data collection by the Government can help us to do that.

One of the things missing from the Bill is a firm commitment on planning. I think there is a possibility for the Government to bring forward such measures, but I would have liked them to commit to planning measures in this Bill.