Universal credit and ‘exempt accommodation’ – changes explained
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Universal Credit and also in Central Government, Housing
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For many months the housing charity Homeless Link has been in close discussion with the Department for Work and Pensions to resolve the challenges of universal credit and the definition of ‘exempt accommodation’.
As a result of this work, many of these challenges have been addressed in new regulations due to be presented to parliament this week.
Here, the charity outlines the changes:
Providing, maintaining and managing accommodation for a vulnerable person costs more than providing general housing. Reflecting the complex circumstances of many homeless peoples’ lives, these additional costs were recognised and paid directly to providers of supported accommodation through enhanced levels of housing benefit.
The introduction of universal credit changed this, causing concern for homelessness agencies as the means for assessing and paying housing costs under this system is much less flexible. This potentially put thousands of homelessness projects at financial risk, especially those working with clients with the most complex needs.
In 2012, in response to lobbying from Homeless Link and others, the government publicly recognised the need to protect supported housing for vulnerable people from the “unintended consequences” of universal credit. It subsequently announced that housing costs would be provided outside of universal credit for those living in ‘exempt accommodation’.
Unfortunately, ‘exempt accommodation’ is a technical term dating back nearly 20 years which only covers certain types of supported housing. It is not reflective of much of modern homelessness provision.
This change would potentially have left up to half of homelessness services unprotected, leaving many others still at risk. There was also a great deal of confusion as to which services were and were not protected.
The new proposal
In May 2013, welfare reform minister Lord Freud recognised that simply protecting exempt accommodation was not an adequate solution and another had to be found. Since then Homeless Link, together with Sitra, Women’s Aid, National Housing Federation and the CIH, have worked with the DWP to resolve this issue.
Finally, after a number of different options had been looked at and considered, new regulations have been proposed which address the main concerns. They largely offer the same protection to almost all single homelessness services that were originally only given to ‘exempt accommodation’.
What will change?
The regulations for both housing benefit and universal credit will change this year and a new category, ‘specified accommodation’, will be introduced. This will cover:
- Supported accommodation which already meets the definition of exempt accommodation.
- Supported accommodation where the claimant has a) been admitted to receive care, support supervision and b) does indeed receive care, support and supervision.
- Refuges for people fleeing domestic violence.
- Homeless hostels owned or managed by lower-tier or unitary local authorities where care, support or supervision is provided.
Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, said: “Homeless Link and its partners have been working tirelessly to improve the support available to people in supported accommodation and to ensure that everyone is given a fair deal. This announcement is great news and should be welcomed by all in the sector.
“Under the existing system, many accommodation providers faced the real risk of closure, potentially leaving some of society’s most vulnerable people with nowhere to turn for help. We look forward to working with homelessness agencies, local authorities and DWP to ensure the new regulations are implemented as successfully as possible.”