In supported housing, accommodation is provided alongside care, support or supervision to help people live as independently as possible.
The homeless and other vulnerable groups, such as those with support needs or disabilities, are often housed in this type of property.
There are currently more than 20,000 units of ‘exempt’ supported accommodation across Birmingham, funded through housing benefit, and exempt from the normal rules limiting the amount of rent covered by benefits. Potential residents are placed into it using multiple referral routes.
Supported accommodation is essential for the thousands of people who need it to live more independent lives. But it is also essential that providers honour their commitment to deliver the right support to their tenants.
Benefit tribunals and operational-level research have sometimes identified exempt accommodation as a complex and difficult area of housing benefit to administer.
The city council also has fewer powers in relation to regulation of this burgeoning sector, which needs wider policy reform on a national basis and further policy analysis.
“This innovative work has been recognised as best practice”
So, in Birmingham, after a £1 million supported housing pilot with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, we have developed a Charter of Rights and Quality Standards, which will not only help us to champion landlords who are providing a good service, but will also help us monitor those landlords who are not.
The charter, created with Spring Housing Association and co-designed with more than 50 people who have experienced homelessness, aims to make tenants and their families aware of the service they should expect.
It is also intended to help organisations consolidate, clarify and build upon their existing practices, ensuring that they are able to respond to their residents safely, effectively and consistently, and identify clear linkages between management practices and resident experience.
The rights outlined in the charter include a right to feel safe and protected, a right to decent living conditions, and a right to challenge.
Birmingham Voluntary Services Council has spent almost two years designing our Exempt Housing Quality Standards, and is rolling them out to all providers of exempt accommodation so that the service they provide meets a high standard.
The standards will allow registered providers to demonstrate their commitment to their clients and to providing a quality housing offer through a recognised quality mark, and will allow referring agencies to identify those providers delivering quality housing with support.
We have also been able to employ an additional multidisciplinary team of inspectors and social workers to carry out more inspections on properties, to ensure that those living there are not being exploited and are receiving the support they need to meet their often complex needs.
I am pleased that this innovative piece of work has been recognised as good practice.
However, we also need stronger regulation for local authorities, the police and the Regulator of Social Housing.
This needs to include stronger definitions around care and support, so that those who provide poor standards face consequences that will make them change their practices.
The charter and standards that Birmingham has produced will provide important learning to inform the scale of supported housing required, and to help shape future provision. Most importantly, they should help ensure residents feel happy, safe and protected in their homes.