Campaign to tackle housing scandal in Birmingham wins support of minister

The scandal of exempt housing, which allows landlords to claim enhanced benefits for vulnerable residents with little regulation, has been an issue BirminghamLive has campaigned about for two years

A campaign to protect some of society’s most vulnerable people by improving legislation around housing has won back from a minister.

The campaign, led by BirminghamLive after a series of investigations revealed shocking conditions people were subjected to in ‘exempt’ housing, — a type of supported housing which allows landlords to claim enhanced housing benefits on behalf of their tenants, on the promise of providing them support and care.

BirminghamLive revealed in December 2020 that lax regulations, no checks and little enforcement meant criminals and landlords were free to exploit the state-funded ‘exempt’ sector, where nearly 20,000 vulnerable residents are being housed.

Then communities secretary Robert Jenrick had pledged to act — but little action has been noted since, and Mr Jenrick has since left the cabinet.

In the original BirminghamLive three month probe, the title found shocking examples of tenants and neighbours being let down.

Equally, they heard of wonderful examples of diligent providers giving exemplary support and working with communities to address issues.

The original dossier compiled by BirminghamLive’s investigation, which was led by politics and people editor Jane Haynes, included:

  • Mentally ill tenants who blockade themselves in their rooms, terrified of their criminal housemates
  • Claims of drug deals and sex work carried out in premises funded by the public purse
  • Victims of abuse living alongside perpetrators because of lax vetting
  • Violence involving tenants of exempt properties
  • At-risk women living in the same, unstaffed, premises as drug and booze addicted men and ex offenders, with strangers free to come and go as they please
  • Drug dealers, pimps and serious crime gangs targeting premises to find new victims
  • Neighbours of hostels living in perpetual anxiety and fear
  • Whole communities torn apart, with some ‘overrun’ by poorly managed hostels
  • A city council battling to crack down on the issue with limited resources, that says it is “largely powerless” without national changes.

Now, more than a year on, policing minister Kit Malthouse has pledged to help make change come about.

Mr Malthouse was left in no doubt about the impact caused in Birmingham by concentrations of homes full of the troubled and vulnerable, addicts and ex criminals, stuck in neighbourhoods with nothing to do and, often, very little support.

He told Birmingham Live: “I will be going back and having an urgent conversation, not just with (Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary) Michael Gove, but with the Department for Work and Pensions, who fund these houses through the housing benefit system to look at what more we can do and deal with this problem of rip-off landlords taking advantage of the welfare system.”

He said officers had told him during his visit that solving the exempt issue was the ‘single thing’ he could do that would make their lives easier.

Assistant Chief Constable Richard Baker also flagged the problem of badly run “exempt housing” .

He said: “While some are very well run, Mr Baker said: “Nobody holds the owners and managers of exempt housing to account.

“For example in one case, a landlord’s ‘support’ was providing a loaf of bread and jam a week.

“But you are talking about residents who may have mental health issues, others who have been domestic abuse victims, housed with domestic abuse perpetrators, high levels of drug and alcohol usage.”

  • In 2022, Behind Local News aims to celebrate local journalism in all its forms through our 365 Acts of Local Journalism Project. Lets us know what you think should be included. You can email us here or contact us via Twitter on BehindLocalNews or on Facebook here.

>> See the series so far, here

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