A weekly round-up of the most important headlines for housing professionals
The growth of exempt accommodation in Birmingham has been rapid in recent years. Coming from a position of only 3,679 claimants in the city in 2014, earlier this year that number ballooned to more than 22,000.
The sub-sector of supported housing sees providers claim uncapped housing benefit while being required to provide only a small level of support. In England’s second city, this sector has grown, largely unchecked, for years. Landlords have amassed a huge number of exempt properties and as a result received tens of millions of pounds in housing benefit.
However, the past 12 months has seen a renewed focus by the English regulator on exempt accommodation, particularly in Birmingham, and this week seemed a significant one in that work. On Monday morning, almost as soon as I had sat down, an email from the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) landed in my inbox with the news that Reliance Social Housing CIC has been put on its ‘gradings under review’ (GUR) list.
Reliance is the biggest provider of exempt accommodation in Birmingham, with 5,642 claimants across 1,591 properties. Its presence on the GUR list means it is the last of the city’s eight largest providers to be either put on the list or be deemed non-compliant.
Being on the GUR list means the regulator will investigate issues that may affect the landlord’s compliance with its standards. Reliance said it was disappointed with the decision, but that it would continue to work with the RSH to ensure it is “fully aware of the high standards we hold ourselves to”.
While, as Reliance pointed out, being on the list does not automatically mean that it will be made non-compliant, it will be interesting to see what the regulator decides after greater scrutiny.
Separately, the National Housing Federation (NHF) has changed its rules around membership in a bid to exclude or block exempt providers that seek to make profit from the housing they provide. This will take effect in September, with changes to its articles around membership to make clear that no association or individual should generate income outside of salaries or bonuses.
This was followed up by a pretty strong op-ed from NHF chair Diana Warwick in which she stated in no uncertain terms that the board will suspend or remove the membership of any organisation the NHF feels does not conform with its articles and ethos.
While some will say that there are worse punishments than having your NHF membership removed, it shows that the sector is taking notice and those taking advantage can no longer go under the radar.
Another week and another slew of building safety stories filled the Inside Housing website. On Tuesday, I outlined how a tweak to rules around Help to Buy redemptions on blocks affected by cladding could open the door to the government losing millions.
On Thursday, Lucie Heath reported on a letter sent to 10,000 L&Q residents which told them that, following the government’s announcement two weeks ago, External Wall System 1 checks were no longer needed on any buildings under 18 metres. Whether the banks will agree will be interesting to see.
And then today, deputy editor Peter Apps revealed that the boss of the country’s largest insurer, Aviva, had lobbied the government to instruct it against some of its measures to fix the cladding crisis. The firm claimed the measures would “deprive leaseholders of the benefits of an institutional landlord”.
Finally, I want to point your attention to an excellent investigation we published this week looking at heat networks in housing developments across the country. While making up a key part of the country’s zero-carbon drive, there have been issues for hundreds of residents such as paying sky high bills or living with no heating. Lucie has spent months getting to grips with the issue and her work can be read here.
Jack Simpson, news editor
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