Categories
Policy

The Problems with Exempt Accommodation

Background

Back in 2005 the primary revenue funding stream for supported housing was “Supporting People funding”, a £1.8 billion UK wide funding pot that had been rolled out two years earlier but was already retrenching markedly. Supported housing providers were struggling to cope with revenue reductions after having been encouraged to grow their services by the government of the day, which then immediately set about restricting the Supporting People revenue upon which those schemes depended.

It was at that time that I and a few others identified a means of offsetting some of that revenue loss. We identified the existence of the Exempt Accommodation rules, an arcane set of regulations that entitled agencies that complied with them to claim enhanced levels of Housing Benefit for providing certain housing related services to people with additional needs. I reinvented the term “intensive housing management” to describe those services and set about promoting the Exempt Accommodation rules, enhanced Housing Benefit, and intensive housing management to the supported housing sector. Over 15 years later, enhanced Housing Benefit has become the primary funding stream for supported housing totalling around £1 billion per year.

Problems?

I hope you’ll forgive me for taking pride in having been instrumental in creating that £1 billion revenue pot. However, in addition to a sense of pride I also have a sense of intense anger at the fact that the Exempt Accommodation rules have been roundly abused by organisations and individuals that have made massive amounts of money, and still do, through the wholesale financial abuse of people with additional needs.

Housing Benefit, whether enhanced or not, is a personal benefit. This personal benefit is being diverted into the pockets of dubiously motivated people on an industrial scale.

To qualify your tenants for enhanced Housing Benefit you must be an “exempt landlord”: put simply; a “housing association”, a charity or voluntary organisation.

The Exempt Accommodation rules were devised in 1996 to prevent ill motivated private landlords from robbing the Housing Benefit system by providing poor quality bed-and-breakfast accommodation to homeless people and charging the local authority a fortune for it. The government of the day introduced the Exempt Accommodation rules to restrict private landlords to Local Reference Rent levels (now known as Local Housing Allowance). Certain landlords, identified above, were exempt from those rent levels, so exempt landlords could claim enhanced levels of Housing Benefit.

What has happened since enhanced Housing Benefit became a major revenue stream is that certain individuals have abused the system by setting up allegedly exempt landlord structures, which are nothing more than badly motivated private businesses masquerading as exempt accommodation compliant supported housing providers.

These businesses are exploiting the Exempt Accommodation rules to use them for the very opposite purpose for which they were intended, which was to prevent, not enable, the abuse of peoples’ Housing Benefit entitlements.

But it’s not just dubious supported housing providers, which milk the system and provide poor quality accommodation and minimal or non-existent services that are the problem. Commercial greed has affected the entire supported housing ecosystem.

Private Capital

Don’t get me wrong here; I absolutely believe that private capital is essential for the development of new supported housing schemes. Whether you fund supported housing, commission supported housing, deliver it, or measure its quality you need to do so according to a set of principles. A few years ago, I devised “Value Generation” as this set of principles:

  • Outcomes for people (qualitatively measured)
  • Cost benefit to the public purse (quantitatively measured)
  • Wider social and community benefit (qualitatively and quantitatively measured)

So, if you don’t generate value you shouldn’t be involved in supported housing.

Just as many supported housing providers do a brilliant job for people with additional needs, some private capital providers do the same thing. To get an idea of what I mean you could do worse than to book onto our free virtual supported housing conference 2022. One of the sessions will be led by Assetz Exchange, which acquires and leases property for supported housing and whose investors can expect a yield of in the region of 5%, which is entirely reasonable and is an exercise in Value Generation.

By comparison, I’m aware of other private capital providers who think that 9%, 10%, 12% or 15% yields are reasonable and some of which would think nothing of using dubious valuation methodologies as a means of inflating the property lease cost for enhanced Housing Benefit claim purposes. Often the only value being generated in such examples is financial value to investors and shareholders at the expense of services for people with additional needs, who are supposed to be the point of and the priority for supported housing.

The Invasion of the Supported Housing Ecosystem & the Response to it

Many of the money motivated private capital providers have made common cause with equally money motivated registered providers, which in turn work with supported housing provider agencies that take on the identity of CICs and other allegedly non-profit structures.

This has led to an invasion of the supported housing ecosystem by people and organisations who know how to play the system for financial gain.

This influx of the uninvited has led to significant pressure on local authorities and enhanced Housing Benefit. Alleged supported housing providers, whether connected to dubiously motivated private capital or not, have popped up all over the place, usually in the form of a CIC, and demanded enhanced Housing Benefit for alleged supported housing services that no one asked them to provide.

One of the consequences of this is the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing, published by the UK government (England only) in October 2020, which tells local authorities to restrict the number of new supported housing “market entrants”, to restrict the payment of enhanced Housing Benefit (without actually using those words) and exhorts commissioners and revenues and benefits teams to work together in the administration of enhanced Housing Benefit.

“Inside Housing” magazine continues to run an information campaign on the uncontrolled growth of exempt accommodation. Thea Raisbeck on behalf of Commonweal Housing and Spring Housing published “Exempt From Responsibility?“, which focuses in particular on Birmingham; an outlier in exempt accommodation abuse with 22,000 exempt accommodation bed spaces. Many of these are in poor quality housing within which negligible or no services are provided, but which attract high levels of enhanced Housing Benefit. Where does that money go, I wonder?

But it’s not just Birmingham, bad though the situation is there. The MHCLG (now the DLUHC) set up five exempt accommodation pilots in Birmingham, Hull, Bristol, Blackburn and Blackpool all of which are exempt accommodation “hotspots”. Those pilots recently reported.

The “Supported Housing Oversight Pilots” evaluation report is heavily qualified methodologically and contains a plea for more funding for further evaluation. This wish appears to have been partially met by the UK government’s recent announcement of £20m towards a Supported Housing Improvement Programme.

The report recommends that “care, support and supervision” (an Exempt Accommodation rule criterion) should be defined and that regulations around rent levels and subsidy rules should be reviewed. The temptation to use this as a means of exercising cost control rather than Value Generation must be resisted. It might sound a bit “old hat” of me to say that investment in preventative services such as supported housing saves a fortune in otherwise avoidable statutory interventions, but it’s still true. The point should be to deny revenue to dodgy operators, not restrict revenue to good ones.

The report also reflects the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing in saying that local authorities should be able to intervene to stop new supported housing supply where it is unnecessary or of poor quality. Many local authorities have set up “gateway” arrangements which prospective supported housing providers have to go through, rather than just setting up and applying for enhanced Housing Benefit.

Rather confusingly, the report claims that “local authorities’ oversight of support is currently limited by existing regulation….”. It seems to me that there is a distinct difference between regulation on the one hand (and the supported housing sector has several regulators) and oversight on the other, which pretty much doesn’t exist. In my view, ALL supported housing providers should be subject to local accreditation as they were during the Supporting People initiative. No accreditation should mean no funding.

Oversight should be based on an independently developed and implemented oversight system based on Value Generation principles.

Given the prominence of some registered providers in what has become the exempt accommodation industry, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) in England has sanctioned several exempt accommodation registered providers. The modus operandi of some of those registered providers is to use associated private companies to charge large amounts of money often for unspecified services to supported housing providers (both good and bad) that work as their agents. Let’s do the maths here; if for example, a registered provider has 5000 agency managed bed spaces and an associated private company charges 10% of the rent roll to those agencies (for unspecified services that may not be provided), given an average weekly enhanced Housing Benefit charge of, say, £200 a week, it’s making £5.2 million per year. Where is this money going?

Thus far the RSH has claimed it has no control over third party organisations associated with registered providers, even in circumstances of apparent “disguised profit”. However, that is about to change as a consequence of legislative changes to sections 107, 108, 203 and 208 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, which will give the RSH “look through” powers to demand that registered providers explain where money that has left the regulated sector has gone, and not before time.

The UK government DLUHC is currently conducting an Inquiry into Exempt Accommodation. You can see my submission to that enquiry here. The thrust of my submission is that Exempt Accommodation as a concept should be abolished, that enhanced Housing Benefit should be abolished and replaced with “Supported Housing Rent“, which is an uncapped housing component of Universal Credit, that all supported housing providers should be accredited at local level (as they were under “Supporting People”) and that there should be an independent oversight system for Supported Housing  based on Value Generation principles.

At time of writing the Inquiry is ongoing, but we will be updating you on any progress it makes at our supported housing conference 2022 which, I repeat, is a free event. At time of writing, we have 800 bookings across the six separate components of the conference.

The Exempt Accommodation Project.

One of the serious implications of the abuse of the Exempt Accommodation rules and enhanced Housing Benefit is that local authorities have, in many cases, implemented quite stringent interpretations of the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing by making it much harder for supported housing providers to claim enhanced Housing Benefit. I can quite understand their position, but it affects genuine supported housing providers as well as their dubious counterparts.

In addition to making it harder to claim enhanced Housing Benefit, some local authorities have told supported housing providers to register as registered providers. This is because where a registered provider is the landlord a local authority can recover from the DWP all the enhanced Housing Benefit it pays. Where a charity or voluntary organisations the landlord in an exempt accommodation/enhanced Housing Benefit claim, the local authority can only recover 60% of the difference between the Local Housing Allowance rate and the amount of the claim, so the local authority will lose a lot of money if it pays the claim.

However, the RSH has an effective embargo on registering new supported housing registered providers, again due to the conduct of those wrongly motivated supported housing registered providers, many of which have been sanctioned by the RSH.

Our solution to this is the Exempt Accommodation Project, which brokers relationships between reputable supported housing providers and reputable registered providers to enable local authorities to pay reasonable, well-founded enhanced Housing Benefit claims without loss of subsidy.

Talk To Us

If you represent a reputable supported housing provider struggling to claim enhanced Housing Benefit, or a reputable registered provider willing to take a short-term lease on a supported housing provider’s property for a good revenue stream please contact us.

Finally, if you’re looking for values driven professional consultancy advice and support in supported housing, please get in touch.

Categories
Finance & Funding

Problems Claiming Enhanced Housing Benefit?

What’s The Problem?

Charities, voluntary organisations and registered providers (housing associations) that provide supported housing and/or tenancy sustainment services are entitled to Enhanced Housing Benefit to provide Intensive Housing Management. However, all things are not equal and some organisations are, in practice, more entitled than others.

If your organisation has decided to set up supported housing in a local authority area without consulting with the local authority in question, don’t be surprised if you’re refused Enhanced Housing Benefit. We’ve been involved in Enhanced Housing Benefit claims since 2005 and we reinvented the term “Intensive Housing Management”, but we don’t represent supported housing providers that operate without the approval of local authorities.

However, there is no guarantee even if your organisation is entitled to Enhanced Housing Benefit and that you operate with local authority approval that will be successful in claiming it.

I metioned that all things are not equal. A registered provider/housing association landlord usually has fewer problems in obtaining Enhanced Housing Benefit because, in such cases, the local authority can fully recover from the DWP the Enhanced Housing Benefit it pays to registered providers.

In the case of a charity or voluntary organisation the local authority can only recover 60% of the difference between the Local Housing Allowance level and the amount of the Enhanced Housing Benefit claim. Small wonder then that charities and voluntary organisations are finding it harder and harder to claim Enhanced Housing Benefit.

We hear increasing numbers of situations where charities and voluntary organisations that provide supported housing are being told by local authorities that they must become registered providers in order to qualify for Enhanced Housing Benefit and/or be included on local framework agreements.

For most charities and voluntary organisations, applying to become a registered provider is akin to trying to get the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle. However, we understand why local authorities have a problem over subsidy loss due to Enhanced Housing Benefit claims they can’t fully recover, even though the “get registered as a registered provider” solution is a non-starter for the vast majority of supported housing providers.

So What’s The Solution Then?

In short the solution is the Exempt Accommodation Project which we set up earlier this year.

The Exempt Accommodation Project seeks to match non-registered supported housing providers, irrespective of their legal identity (charity, voluntary agency, private provider) that own or lease their properties with compatible registered providers in a more equitable way than traditional registered provider/managing agency agreements. The properties in question are then leased by the supported housing provider to the registered provider on a 5-7 year basis. As a consequence, local authorities can fully reclaim the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay, because a registered provider is the landlord.

Since we set the Exempt Accommodation Project up we have been inundated with interest from providers and local authorities. We’ve also been successful in attracting a number of small, community-based registered providers to act as landlords by taking a short-term lease on supported housing providers’ properties.

These registered providers must, as a minimum, be responsible for:

  • Voids
  • Health & Safety
  • Tenant satisfaction
  • Administration of occupancy
  • Physical property standards

For managing the above, usually via the HB eligible (and otherwise entirely free) Cloudigs supported housing management system, the registered providers are paid around £20 per tenant per week. That’s over £100k per year, assuming 100 units of accommodation, the local authorities can then fully reclaim the Enhanced Housing Benefit they pay and supported housing providers have fewer problems in claiming Enhanced Housing Benefit, which we do for them anyway. We also provide the lease and management agreement templates for the registered providers and supported housing providers to use. Our costs, which are minimal, are charged to the Enhanced Housing Benefit claim. So what’s not to like?

The Exempt Accommodation Project is happy to take on more local authority approved providers, but we’re especially in need of community-based registered providers that would appreciate a generous revenue stream whilst making a major contribution to solving their local authorities’ subsidy recovery problems.

So whether you’re a supported housing provider struggling with Enhanced Housing Benefit claims, a registered provider looking for a good revenue stream whilst generating huge value for your community or a local authority looking for a subsidy recovery solution, please talk to us. The Exempt Accommodation Project won’t cost you anything, but it will gain you a lot. It’s what you call a “no-brainer”.

Categories
Finance & Funding Policy

Enhanced Housing Benefit, the Exempt Accommodation Project and the Oversight of Supported Housing

Introduction

Some months ago, I wrote a briefing on the oversight of supported housing. Since then, much has happened in the supported housing space, including the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing and consequential structural changes at local authority level. These changes include more integrated “commissioning” of supported housing, often in conjunction with Revenues and Benefits departments, as local authorities consider how to manage the supported housing “market”.

Enhanced Housing Benefit and the Exempt Accommodation Rules

We have seen additional restrictions on, and greater scrutiny of enhanced Housing Benefit claims made by supported housing providers under the Exempt Accommodation rules.

Back in October 2020 I wrote a briefing on the National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing in which I expressed concern that it would be used as an exercise in cost control. Unfortunately, those fears seem to be justified in many instances. Some local authorities are trying to insist on supported housing providers becoming registered providers to qualify for framework agreements and tenders in circumstances where, in England at least, this is a very difficult thing to do.

Other local authorities are restricting enhanced Housing Benefit payments to non-registered supported housing providers to artificial local maxima of less than they need and are entitled to. They do this to avoid the subsidy loss they incur when they pay enhanced Housing Benefit to non-registered supported housing providers. This is understandable in a way, but it further reinforces the three-tier system in which a tenant’s entitlement to enhanced Housing Benefit is dependent on the legal identity of their landlord, which is patently bonkers as well as discriminatory:

  • Private supported housing landlord: Local Housing Allowance levels only
  • Nonregistered supported housing provider landlord: reduced levels of enhanced Housing Benefit
  • Registered provider supported housing landlord: full enhanced Housing Benefit

We actually need to get rid of the Exempt Accommodation rules and move to a supported housing rent based on an unrestricted Universal Credit housing component. This should be irrespective of the legal identity of the supported housing provider.

The Exempt Accommodation Project

Whilst we are stuck with the Exempt Accommodation rules, we’ve developed the exempt accommodation project in order to:

  • Stop financial discrimination based on the legal identity of a supported housing landlord
  • Enable local authorities to fully recover the enhanced Housing Benefit they pay
  • Ensure full regulatory compliance through the optional use of the ClouDigs cloud-based supported housing management system (it’s effectively free, so why not?)
  • Ensure that supported housing providers are of good quality and only operate with the consent of local statutory sector partners

The Exempt Accommodation Project works by connecting non-registered supported housing providers that own or lease their properties with smaller, community-based registered providers that then take a legal interest in the properties concerned. This enables the payment of enhanced Housing Benefit, which the local authority can fully recover. We provide all the necessary documentary infrastructure and regulatory compliance systems, and we calculate and secure the enhanced Housing Benefit. It effectively costs nothing as the small costs involved are Housing Benefit eligible.

Exempt Accommodation Project Flowchart

Exempt Accommodation Project Flowchart
Exempt Accommodation Project Flowchart

Please get in touch if you want to be part of the Exempt Accommodation Project, if you’re:

  • a supported housing provider, irrespective of legal identity, looking for enhanced Housing Benefit
  • a registered provider needing an additional revenue stream within a risk-managed structure
  • a local authority wanting a strategic approach to full subsidy recovery on enhanced Housing Benefit payments, and the effective management of the local supported housing market.

The Exempt Accommodation Project will not accommodate supported housing providers that are not welcome by the local authority within which they seek to operate. We conduct extensive due diligence on ALL supported housing providers (and registered providers) asking to be involved in the Exempt Accommodation Project. The first consideration the due diligence process is whether the supported housing provider in particular is “approved” by the local authority.

The Accreditation and Oversight of Supported Housing

It would be much simpler if supported housing providers were accredited by local authorities (not regulated or overseen, more on that in a minute). Why not simply refresh the old Supporting People accreditation framework? This would prevent the ill motivated people who set up poor quality supported housing providers and dubious registered providers as a moneymaking exercise from being able to claim enhanced Housing Benefit. Unaccredited providers should not be eligible to claim enhanced Housing Benefit. Thea Raisebeck’s “Exempt from Responsibility?” Report is an insight into the dangers of unaccredited providers.

The National Statement of Expectations requires local authorities to manage their local supported housing “market”, including supported housing services that they don’t fund, so-called non-commissioned services.

I think we need to clarify what we mean when we talk about “commissioned” and “non-commissioned” services. Both the National Statement of Expectation for Supported Housing and the abuse of the enhanced Housing Benefit system require us to do so.

In my view supported housing services should not be eligible for enhanced Housing Benefit or other funding unless they operate at the behest or with the approval of the local authority and its strategic partners.

Local authorities should actually accredit supported housing providers, whether or not they do so in a formal way. In this sense all enhanced Housing Benefit eligible supported housing services would effectively be “commissioned”. Commissioned with a capital C if they are recipients of local authority or other statutory funding aside from enhanced Housing Benefit and commissioned with a small c if they receive enhanced Housing Benefit only. The point is that the latter, which are erroneously referred to as “non-commissioned services”, should only be paid enhanced Housing Benefit if they operate at the behest of or with the approval of local authorities and are accredited by them. If they do this they should be regarded as commissioned services, albeit commissioned with a small c, as they do not receive local authority funding aside from enhanced Housing Benefit.

Accreditation is not regulation or oversight. It’s acceptance by a local authority that a provider operates strategically relevant supported housing that generates value[1].

As I have mentioned before, there is a multiplicity of regulators in the supported housing space: various national housing association/registered provider regulators, the Charity Commission, the CIC Regulator, the FCA none of which are specialists in supported housing.

For the most part supported housing is not overseen. The National Statement of Expectations doesn’t require local authorities to oversee supported housing, which is just as well as they are neither resourced and consequently skilled to do so.

I continue to argue for an independently developed and implemented supported housing oversight system with national scope and based on Value Generation principles. It should be developed by a university or think tank in consultation with the local authorities and providers but implemented independently. The outcomes it generates through formal oversight of supported housing should be fed back to local authorities and providers to inform funding and commissioning decisions and service improvement strategies.

The supported housing quality assessment system I propose (SHQAS) should be a Value Generation-based system. I defined the three value generation principles before and it’s important also to identify how these principles should be measured:

  1. Outcomes for people: qualitatively measured
  2. Cost benefit: quantitatively measured
  3. Wider social and community benefit: both qualitatively and quantitatively measured

The SHQAS should be funded by the UK and national governments. It shouldn’t cost providers and local authorities anything.

Conclusions

So, if you’re thinking about claiming enhanced Housing Benefit, be mindful of the fact that many local authorities are placing restrictions on the amounts they will pay and to whom.

Blanket approaches at restriction are exercises in cost control, not necessarily strategies to invest in supported housing providers that generate value and to restrict resources to those who don’t.

This means that there are many good supported housing providers, that don’t work with registered providers, that will have their revenue restricted. There are some not so good supported housing providers that work with registered providers (some of which are also questionable) which won’t have their revenue restricted.

The Exempt Accommodation Project is a means of rectifying this problem by matching good supported housing providers, which are “approved” by their local authorities, with good community-based registered providers.

In terms of how a local authority “approves” a supported housing provider I believe it should do so via a local accreditation process. No need to reinvent the wheel here: this is what local authorities used to do in the days of “Supporting People”. Bring out the old Supporting People accreditation framework, dust it down and update it for use today.

I don’t believe that local authorities are resourced or skilled to oversee supported housing, and in any event, we need to separate oversight on the one hand from commissioning and funding on the other. Hence, I have argued that a system for the oversight of supported housing, with national scope, should be developed by an independent agency such as a university or think tank and then implemented by that agency independently of both local authorities and supported housing providers. Clearly, the outcomes of the oversight process, which must be based on Value Generation principles, should be shared with both local authorities and providers to inform commissioning/funding decisions and service outcomes.

Michael Patterson

August 2021


[1] Value Generation is: outcomes for people (who live in supported housing); cost benefit to the public purse & wider social and community benefit.