One of Birmingham’s most senior police officers is leading calls for new regulation on who can run hostels for tenants who are often vulnerable.
Unlike other forms of residential care, where owners and staff require enhanced disclosures, people who operate multi-occupancy housing for other vulnerable tenants require no checks at all. Calling on the government to close this loophole in the legislation, Chief Superintendent Steve Graham raised concerns that the current situation made it all too easy for criminals to get involved in purchasing and running hostel-style accommodation, with the aim of exploiting the vulnerable.
Edgbaston Hostel Closure
The Chief Superintendent’s calls came after Birmingham police issued a formal closure notice against one hostel in the Edgbaston area of the city, citing both living conditions for the tenants, and impact on neighbours. The senior officer pointed out that police enforcement action against exploitative landlords was both time consuming and expensive, and introducing even a basic level of DBS checks for social landlords could help alleviate the problems.
The hostels in concern are a specific type of supported accommodation, known as “exempt properties”, in housing terminology. In order to qualify as an exempt property, all tenants must be entitled to enhanced housing benefit, paid to people who require an additional level of support and care. In Birmingham alone, there are over 4,000 properties of this type, accommodating more than 20,000 people. Although the majority of hostels are run by professional, caring organisations, the expansion of the sector has attracted another type of landlord, interested only in making a quick buck off the back of their vulnerable tenants.
Tenants living in exempt problems come from a range of backgrounds but might be recently released prisoners, people with drug or alcohol problems, homeless people, or people with mental or physical health difficulties.
Checking for Staff
This sort of exempt accommodation usually has tenants living fairly independently, but with a member of staff either living there permanently too or being around during the day. Currently, there are no restrictions over who can own and operate exempt accommodation, or any requirement for DBS checks on owners or staff. Police are calling for a basic DBS check as a minimum. A basic DBS check will reveal an applicant’s current and unspent criminal record only. Others advocate a deeper level of checking, looking more closely at someone’s associations and spent record too.
Vetting of Tenants
In addition to calls for DBS checking for staff, the Police would also like to see greater vetting of new people wishing to take up a place in the hostel. A good accommodation provider will consider the needs of each resident, and whether a new person will be a good “fit” overall. Rogue landlords skip this stage and will take any resident they can get. Greater vetting of residents and a more professional approach to the running of exempt accommodation should reduce antisocial behaviour and raise the standard of this style of accommodation across the UK.