Costly Scandal Needs Sorting

Events at asylum centres have made the headlines this week, drawing attention to the cost of government funded accommodation. They’re now spending millions on hotels.  

That story rather overshadowed a report on exempt accommodation by the Levelling up, Housing and Communities Select Committee. 

Exempt accommodation is so called because its exempt from usual housing benefit restrictions.  

That makes it very lucrative for private providers.  

The report identifies a number of problems for residents and neighbours and points out that concentrations of such property often results in anti-social behaviour, rubbish, and vermin as well as noise, violence, and drugs.  

West Midlands Police say organised crime is involved.  

The committee came to Birmingham where I was pleased to sit in on a couple of sessions and hear what constituents have been telling me for years. Despite two separate attempts on my part, to legislate on this, the government has turned a blind eye.  

They’ve also largely ignored a brilliant Birmingham Mail campaign and demands for action from almost every Birmingham MP. 

The chair of the committee, Clive Betts MP, acknowledged that I was the first to raise it with him and suggest an enquiry. You can view our exchange on Facebook. His report confirms my worst fears.  

It calls for councils to be given powers to limit the number of ‘hostels’ per area, to regulate referrals so that children and victims of domestic abuse aren’t forced to share with people who’ve committed violent offences or have serious drink and drug problems. 

The Home Secretary has now given a figure for the cost of her failed asylum strategy but when the committee asked for similar information, the government said it didn’t know how many people were living in exempt accommodation or what it was costing.  

A report, back in 2016, to the Comptroller and Auditor General suggested it might be around £2.15 billion, money that could be used to build homes.  

As I write this, there’s been such upheaval in government that, I’m not yet clear who the new housing minister is but I’m sure he or she must act quickly to end this scandal. 

Steve McCabe MP speaking in the House of Commons debate on exempt accommodation

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