Shabana has written to the National Audit Office following their latest report on the accounts of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Shabana was disappointed that the NAO’s latest report did not mention supported exempt accommodation, despite it being estimated that local authorities are spending up to £1 billion on exempt accommodation – a significant cost to the taxpayer.
You can read her letter in full below.
Letter to the NAO
Dear Mr. Davies,
NAO Report on Accounts: The Department for Work and Pensions
I am writing to you following the publication of the NAO’s report on accounts for the Department for Work and Pensions.
I am deeply concerned that “supported exempt accommodation” is not mentioned within your report. This is despite it being estimated that local authorities are spending up to £1 billion on exempt accommodation – a significant cost to the taxpayer.
It is well known that the Department for Work and Pensions appears to have little oversight over the millions that are being spent in this sector.
I asked in a written parliamentary question how much the Government has spent on housing benefit in the exempt accommodation sector. The answer I received stated that the department does not collect this information as it would be at a disproportionate cost to the department – despite it costing taxpayers millions.
The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee also concluded in its report that “the dearth of data on exempt accommodation shows how successive Governments have been caught sleeping”.
One of the most concerning issues that has come up in my extensive casework regarding exempt accommodation – is the emergence of ghost tenancies.
Ghost tenancies are tenures whereby a managing agent or registered provider is claiming enhanced housing benefit for an occupant who has already vacated a property, or in some cases never lived in the property in the first place. Often claims are put in for triple the number of people than there are bedrooms (i.e., 10 or 15 housing benefit claims for the same 3-bedroom house), which suggests that councils are not checking the claims in any sort of detail.
Following the supported housing pilots, Birmingham City Council started revisiting the housing benefit claims for exempt accommodation properties since 2019. They found that 3,022 housing benefit claims had to be cancelled due to the resident vacating the property. This equates to millions of taxpayers’ money.
This evidence has only emerged following the enhanced scrutiny brought around by the supported housing pilots. As such there are serious questions around the levels of housing benefit fraud that is taking place in this sector, and it suggests that the DWP has no oversight of councils.
This is incredibly concerning additional evidence that the DWP has no idea what is happening to taxpayers’ money. As such, I would ask that the NAO look into the housing benefit being paid for supported exempt accommodation, including overpayments and fraud at the national level.
Shabana Mahmood MP
Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood