Clause 3 - National Supported Housing Standards

Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 11th January 2023.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund 9:45 am, 11th January 2023

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 3, page 4, line 8, at end insert—

“(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations confer powers on local housing authorities to enforce the National Supported Housing Standards

(6) Regulations made under subsection (5) shall be in a form analogous to Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, with such modifications, amendments, disapplication or transitional provisions as the Secretary of State shall consider appropriate for the purpose of enabling local housing authorities to secure compliance with the National Supported Housing Standards.

(7) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (5) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

This amendment seeks to give the Secretary of State the option of giving local housing authorities the power to introduce a scheme to enforce the National Supported Housing Standards.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 2, in clause 3, page 4, line 8, at end insert—

“(5) If, at the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the power in subsection (1) is yet to be exercised, the Secretary of State must publish, in such manner as the Secretary of State thinks fit, a report setting out the progress that has been made towards doing so.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to explain why they have not introduced National Supported Housing Standards, if they have not done so within a year of Royal Assent of the Act.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Thank you, Mr Efford; I take your strictures to heart. I have two amendments. The first one recognises the need for standards to be set down and for a discussion about how that might best be done. I am happy to hear what the Minister has to say. We all want to see standards effectively laid down and followed through; the current lack of standards is a real problem in the sector.

I move on to my second amendment. I am not doubting the good intentions of the Minister in any way, but we have, of course, had one or two changes of Minister; by the time we come to implement this, someone else might be there. I am trying to get on the record what happens if the powers that may be exercised by Ministers are not exercised in practice. Is there a mechanism for whoever the Minister is at the time to report back to Members about what progress has or has not been made? I would be happy to hear the Minister’s response.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I should say from the outset that I agree with the thrust of the amendment, but we need to look at the issue in some detail to ensure that it reflects exactly what we are seeking to do in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield South East will not press this to a vote. We will seek assurances from the Minister about what can be done to ensure that we enforce these regulations on local authorities and that we have proper standards.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

The Chair of the Select Committee is right to raise the issue of how housing standards can be enforced in this important area, particularly as they affect vulnerable people. I ask the Minister to consider whether the connection of the financial payment—that relationship with DWP extra support payments, which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North rightly raised—could be part of the mechanism. We know that local authorities, even with resources, have struggled with rogue landlords and to really enforce housing standards in other ways. I encourage the thinking about financial as well as enforcement powers.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There are a number of different existing models. Many local authorities pay the rent through housing benefit for a tenant to live in supported accommodation. There can then be a discretionary social services element, provided under a contract by the local authority to the housing provider, in order to provide support. It is a very complex area, as my hon. Friend knows. We must get this right; there could be unforeseen circumstances if we are too prescriptive at this stage. It may well be that the detail has to be set out in regulations as the consultation process and the regulations that follow from the Bill go through. I do not think it would be sensible at this stage to agree to the amendment. I trust we will get some assurances from my hon. Friend the Minister in that respect.

The clause requires appropriate supported housing standards to be followed, introduced and enforced by the local authority. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North said—his points were well made—people should be living in reasonable accommodation suitable to their needs. That is part and parcel of setting out what the standards should be. That does not mean the sort of things we saw in Birmingham, with its scandalous elements: where a three-bedroom house is suddenly turned into an eight-bedroom house, with a small kitchen and small living area, and people are crammed in without any support whatever; where there is no control over the type of people put into these houses or their needs; and where someone fleeing domestic violence, a recovering drug addict, someone who has left prison for sexual offences and others can all be accommodated within the same unit, without any consideration of their separate needs and responsibilities. We need to set the standards out.

Amendment 2 relates to the Secretary of State reporting back. We look forward to the Minister still being in place by the time we get the Bill on the statute book, although I notice that here we have an ex-Minister, who began the process, and another ex-Minister, who is now my Whip—we have had three Ministers already, during the course of the Bill’s proceedings. We need to make sure that we are making progress and that we are implementing the provisions. I look forward to some warm words, a firm contribution and a commitment from my hon. Friend the Minister, to make sure that we get action in this area quickly, expeditiously and appropriately as well as a commitment that, if we do not get that action, Ministers will come back and tell us why.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Order. I apologise, Minister; permit me to interrupt. Paulette Hamilton wanted to speak.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington

Thank you, Mr Efford. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship—I feel as if I have said that a few times recently.

It is no secret that Birmingham has a serious problem with exempt supported accommodation. I absolutely agree with the amendment. One of my constituents is currently living in a five-bedroom house where partitions have been put in and the toilet is broken. For the last four months, rats have been running around the house. This is happening in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale. I have heard from other constituents. One woman who came to my surgery is living in exempt accommodation. She is heavily pregnant. At the moment, the property has bed bugs and she is sleeping on the floor. The landlord is doing nothing about it.

Real people are at the heart of this private Member’s Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East for tabling the amendment. Our constituents are why we want enforcement of the national supported housing standards. That is so important. They are why the ability to confer those powers should be expressly given to the Secretary of State. I am delighted to support the amendment.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 10:00 am, 11th January 2023

I apologise for not calling you, Mrs Hamilton.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Be bolder in catching my eye!

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I agree with the comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that it is critical that we get this right. The consultation process is critical to the Bill. We need to avoid unintended consequences.

I will start with amendment 1, which would enable the Secretary of State to enforce the supported housing standards in the same way as housing health and safety is enforced in private housing currently, if he chose to do so. Under the Bill as drafted, local housing authorities will have powers to enforce the new national supported housing standards through a licensing scheme, should they choose to run one. We will issue guidance to sit alongside the licensing regime—following the regulations being made—to ensure that local authorities that choose to run a licensing scheme do so in a consistent way.

Critically, we will consult, under the duty set out in clause 6, on the effectiveness of the licensing regime as a method to enforce the national supported housing standards, as well as on additional ways through which to enforce the standards. The amendment would overlap with the consultation duty in clause 6 and pre-empt the results of that consultation, by putting forward a ready-made solution.

I have been clear that the Government’s priority, in deciding on the detail of implementing the measures set out in the Bill, is to listen carefully to the concerns of the supported housing sector and its residents. We all want to avoid any unintended consequences.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

Yesterday I met Kate Henderson and Sue Ramsden from the National Housing Federation, and it seems to me that there is tremendous support for the Bill across the housing sector. There is a great will to work collectively to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and to drive out the rogue landlords. Has the Minister had that experience herself with the sector?

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Absolutely. I think that the sector is very supportive of what we are doing with this private Member’s Bill. There is some concern about unintended consequences, and that is why consultation will be key.

I would be happy to discuss the amendment further with the hon. Member for Sheffield South East as an option in the consultation document, rather than setting it out in the Bill. I urge him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Thank you, Mr Betts—

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I beg your pardon. I was trying to move you on—we are nearly 40 minutes in and only on clause 3!

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

On amendment 2, it is unusual for the Government to be required, in a Bill, to make progress reports on individual Bill measures in the way proposed in this amendment. Clearly, there are already well established methods for holding Government to account—including by inviting or calling Ministers to one’s Select Committee. However, there is a requirement in relation to the licensing regulations—this is in clause 4(2)—for the Secretary of State to give a progress report if he has not put in place the licensing regulations after 12 months.

Today, I can give an oral commitment here in Committee that if that clause is triggered, we will also give an update on the national supported housing standards at the same time. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to clause 3 stand part. Clause 3 enables the Secretary of State to prepare and publish new national supported housing standards. The standards will cover both the adequacy of the accommodation and the quality of the care, support or supervision provided. They will be enforced through the licensing schemes to ensure that only those who meet the standards will be granted a licence.

To take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, our intention is firmly to work with DWP to look to align the national housing standards with housing benefit. I absolutely agree with her that we need to cut out the financial incentive for rogue operators. I reassure her that I had a conversation yesterday with my opposite number in DWP and we are fully aligned with those objectives.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

I accept the Minister’s assurances that when producing the report relating to licensing, as detailed in clause 4(2), she will also publish an update on progress with national housing standards. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.