Feb Update: We are continuing to with two other Selly Park community groups (SPOA and Selly Park Residents Community Association) and the Exempt Accommodation Forum (a Birmingham wide pressure group that gave evidence to the House of Commons Committee) to apply pressure to the Council and police to tackle the issues inside and outside of the badly run properties. If you aren't sure what exempt accommodation is, there are details further down this post.
We are actively consulting our residents to understand the issues in area. This started with our Forum's Open Meeting on the 23rd of January where we heard of issues residents of these properties and their neighbours have.
We are compiling a database of problem households. If you are affected, keep reporting to the police and our councillors but also let us know by emailing to email@example.com Keep a diary of any problems. Record the date, how long it went on for, the nature of the incident and if you contacted anyone about it, what was the response.
We have supplied problem addresses to the police so that they can supply their records of incidents with EA properties.
Cllr McCarthy has committed to find addresses which have been raised with our Councillors.
We met with our MP and our Councillors on the 3rd of February. We collectively agreed that:
We want to deter further EAs in our area as we are already saturated.
We want to ensure that residents in those households have suitable accommodation, that the mix of residents is appropriate and they have effective care plans.
We want to ensure any issues caused to local residents are resolved quickly. Where long-term issues exist, long-term solutions should be applied. Where necessary, this should involve benefits being withheld from the providers.
We believe there needs to be a multidisciplinary team involving the Council, Police and local residents to target the worst properties in Selly Park using the existing powers that aren't being effectively used. These should include all the main providers in our area. The hope is that this will provide a deterrent to new, badly run properties and reduce the number of problems we have.
We will also use this team to see whether we can get a pilot study for the licencing scheme that is in upcoming legislation.
We discussed with Steve what he could do to help.
Following an earlier meeting, he is trying to get a debate in the Commons on the ongoing issues with exempt accommodation. He had previously committed to see if there was a way to get the legislation enacted sooner and whether a pilot licencing scheme was possible.
He has also been trying to arrange a meeting with the local police inspector to raise his concerns.
Steve agreed to arrange a working meeting involving the Councillors, Police, local resident's groups, the Council's Exempt Accommodation Team, Adult Social Services and the Housing Benefits Team. This will look at how we can make the team happen and how it can meet our aims.
We discussed with our councillors as to how they could help
While they are waiting for the meeting, they will be making the relevant Council Officers aware of what we are trying to do and to find the right people to invite to the working meeting.
What is exempt accommodation?
Exempt accommodation (EA) is housing where vulnerable adults are supported to live independently. It could be accommodation for:
people who are homeless
people recently released from prison
survivors of domestic abuse
people with substance dependencies
people with mental health issues
In the Forum's area there are 45+ properties (most are on Pershore Road) housing over 200 people. These are run by providers who are given around £3 million per year in benefits to provide accommodation and support. Unfortunately there is little regulation and some providers aren't providing any support to EA residents but are exploiting them. To quote from a House of Commons Committee report who visited Erdington as part of their research link
"The very worst experiences we heard were of residents living among, and being made, the victims of the most terrible crimes, sometimes at the hands of staff. Stories included residents being raped and sexually harassed by their landlords under threat of eviction. We heard of staff assaulting residents and asking them for sexual acts in return for money, food, or better accommodation. We were told of residents forced to undertake work on the property, such as tiling a bathroom, for nothing or for a pittance. Staff and landlords were accused of threatening residents, selling drugs to residents and being complicit in anti-social behaviour. Residents have also been victims of crimes committed by fellow residents, such as sexual assault and burglaries. It has also been recently reported that “organised crime groups are taking millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money [and] have been cashing in on the recent boom in exempt accommodation”. West Midlands Police’s written evidence described how organised crime groups typically invest in real estate as a front to launder money. The impact of experiences such as these is that some people, who are already vulnerable when they enter exempt accommodation on the promise that they will receive support, become more traumatised than before. For other residents, the cost of their exempt accommodation has been their very lives, some people dying of drug overdoses and others even being murdered by fellow residents."
The report also highlights the knock on effect that badly run EAs can have on the community
"...we also heard many accounts of anti-social and criminal behaviour taking place near exempt accommodation. Much, but by no means all, of this evidence came from community groups in and around Birmingham, where there is a great deal of awareness and activism on the part of local groups. Contributors to our inquiry described littering, rubbish piling up and pouring over the streets, encouraging the spread of vermin and cockroaches. More than one submission mentioned residents begging. There were also reports of noise from parties, fights, and quarrels. We were also told about drug taking, littering, public urination, and in one area, prostitution. These problems were exacerbated when exempt properties were clustered together in the same area. West Midlands Police wrote that they received 18 calls in one month from just one road with a high concentration of exempt accommodation."
"Neighbourhood groups were also concerned about a loss of family housing that they associated with exempt accommodation, as Victorian era properties can be easily converted to multiple occupation. Centre for the New Midlands, a think tank, claimed that since 2014 over 5,000 homes have been converted from family homes to exempt accommodation in the Midlands alone."