Written by Ben Rick, Managing Director, Social and Sustainable Capital (SASC)

Social and Sustainable Capital (SASC), welcomes the report by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee into exempt accommodation. We urge the government to act on the recommendations made in this report as a matter of urgency.

The type of supported housing known as Exempt Accommodation (EA) is a vital service for some of society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people. This makes the behaviour of some EA providers detailed in the report all the more horrific. The Committee’s accounts of substandard housing, non-existent support and exploitative behaviour are shocking but sadly not surprising to us: we have been raising concerns about standards in the sector for some time.

As the report points out, there are many good providers of exempt accommodation out there – and we are delighted to work with some of the best. Since 2017 we have approved loans worth almost £90 million to more than 25 high performing charities and social enterprises providing EA across the UK, mostly on a commissioned basis, so that they can acquire more homes and help more people.

We agree with the Committee’s view that only qualified care and support providers should be able to deliver support to vulnerable groups (paragraph 33).  Typically these are local charities that specialise in the needs of particular groups such as those fleeing domestic violence. While they have long and substantial track records, they are not necessarily Registered Providers. Over the last five years we have highlighted the vital work of these hidden champions: committed local support providers, who work closely with councils, the police, and providers of health services in their area. As the backbone of local EA provision these organisations need help to grow and support more people – and to counter the threat from rogue providers.

We also agree with the Committee that the lack of regulatory oversight or data in EA makes identifying best practice harder. But we are confident that it is possible to tell the good from the bad, and we believe we achieve this every day. As part of SASC’s due diligence process we conduct detailed reference interviews with local commissioning authorities (normally the Local Authority or the Care Commissioning Group). We seek to understand their views on the scale of the need for supported housing, the quality of housing and support currently being provided, and whether investment from us to the organisation in question would be well received.

We also welcome the Committee’s acknowledgement that better data and analysis (paragraphs 82-83; 107) is needed, as well as National Standards (paragraphs 54-56) and a National Oversight Committee (paragraph 60). SASC also support the view (paragraphs 57 and 87) that Local Authorities should be funded and empowered to be able to scrutinise local providers better; and that there should be a clearer route for high performing non-RP providers to be recognised by the RSH (paragraph 108).

We agree with the Committee that good providers should not fear greater scrutiny (paragraph 108). Good providers need to be identified and supported: rogue providers need to be identified and driven out. The findings of the LUHC Committee are an accurate reflection of the challenges the sector faces, and its report is extremely timely. We hope that the government agrees and acts on the recommendations now.