UK crime gangs rake in millions from supported housing, police say | Lodging

Organized crime groups are taking millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money through unregulated supported accommodation for vulnerable people, police have revealed.

Criminals have taken advantage of the recent boom in “exempt housing”, designed to support vulnerable people such as people leaving prison, recovering drug addicts and those fleeing domestic violence.

Providers can claim higher housing benefit rates for these properties, but there are major concerns about the quality of support.

Police say criminal gangs are buying up properties and turning them into supported housing to receive the highest rates, but providing little or no support to vulnerable tenants.

‘The organized crime groups that we know of are making over half a million pounds a month from this, and that’s taxpayers’ money, a huge amount of money,’ the deputy chief constable said Richard Baker of West Midlands Police.

“A lot of the organized crime intelligence that we have shows that criminal groups will invest money, launder their money, buying this type of property.”

Exempt accommodation may charge higher rates of rent – paid for by Housing Benefit – as it is exempt from Local Housing Benefit (LHA) caps and is expected to provide a “more than minimal” level of support to tenants.

Birmingham has become a UK hotspot, with the number of applicants in the city rising from 3,679 in 2014 to almost 22,000 earlier this year. The City Council estimates that at least half of these claimants traveled to Birmingham from other local authorities specifically to stay in exempt accommodation.

But the sector’s lack of regulation and oversight has left it open to abuse, with multiple reports of unscrupulous providers exploiting the system to make money and failing to provide support to tenants with complex needs.

“We heard of some cases where they put a loaf of bread and jam on the table in the morning, and that was it. It’s the support,” Baker said.

“There are many examples where providers will take one of the vulnerable people inside the premises, reduce their rent, and then say they are employed as a support worker, untrained, unchecked.”

As a result, crime and anti-social behavior plagues many properties. “We have examples of unique properties that cause us several hundred calls over a period of several months,” Baker said. “In some neighborhoods, entire streets have been invaded.”

There were 156,868 households in exempt accommodation across the country in May 2021, according to figures from homeless charity Crisis, with rising numbers particularly in areas such as Hull, Bradford and Blackpool.

Jasmine Basran, the association’s policy and public affairs manager, said she met many vulnerable people who were exploited while living in the accommodation.

She said Crisis had heard of people using control tactics, such as “effectively guarding the accommodation, asking for money and not letting people out at certain times”, to prevent residents from finding a job and move.

“These are people taking advantage of people in this situation, because there is no monitoring, no one checking, there is no one reporting backup issues, so they are exploiting the situation,” a- she declared.

“We heard of people who felt safer sleeping on the streets.”

Earlier this year, the Leveling Up, Housing and Communities select committee launched an inquiry into the matter, while then Housing Minister Eddie Hughes announced plans to introduce minimum resident support standards .

Hughes also said measures would be introduced to give local authorities more power to police exempt accommodation in their area.

Birmingham City Councilor Sharon Thompson, a cabinet member for housing and homelessness, said the government had made a “dramatic U-turn” after previously dismissing the topic as a “Birmingham and Blackpool problem “.

“It takes a huge amount of time and effort, and now we have specialist officers working almost exclusively on exempt housing,” she said.

“But the powers of the council in this matter are completely limited. Over the past two years of campaigning, we have developed a very clear wish list of things we think the government needs to change in order to improve the market. And giving boards more control is one of them.

Birmingham Labor MP Preet Gill, who campaigned successfully last year for the exempted Saif Lodge property in his constituency to be closed due to its ‘dirty, cramped and shoddy’ conditions, said there were many more that still needed to be dealt with.

“We are there, we are telling owners that they don’t need experience, that they don’t need to prove that they have skills to address the concerns of many of these people, that there whether it’s drug or alcohol issues or mental health issues,” Gill said.

“Of course, you also have good suppliers. But it seems people are happy to take the money for the support element without actually providing it because they know there’s this loophole where they don’t even have to prove what they’re doing.

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