Over the last two weeks I have been reflecting on the Housing 2022 conference. It was great to see the conference back to what felt like pre-pandemic numbers and meet lots of clients and some new faces.

Inevitably the topic of April 2023 rent increases was talked about lots, with no easy answer for registered providers deciding whether they will apply the full permitted rent increase under the Rent Standard (providing income to cover its own additional higher costs or investment moving forward) or restrict in view of the cost of living crisis. This is something Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are discussing recognising the bar is high for interfering with the current rent settlement, although do current events at 10 Downing Street cause a delay in any potential announcement here? Whatever the approach, clear communication with residents will be crucial.

Each year I find there is always a main theme in terms of exhibition stands (anyone else remember the solar panels in Harrogate?!). This year the main theme was definitely digital technology (although the main focus of freebies was environmentally friendly products). It was really interesting to see on the stands how much technology can help housing providers deliver a range of services to their customers and keep people in their homes, as well as create internal efficiencies.  

We were delighted to sponsor the specialist housing stream at Housing 2022. Specialist housing provides much needed accommodation for some of the most vulnerable in society on either a temporary or permanent basis, so we were really excited to be speaking at and attending the sessions held across the stream exploring best practice, sharing and hearing great ideas about local projects and discussing how to ensure sustainable models meet the needs of those individuals. We look forward to those discussions continuing and building on the momentum from conference. What was particularly interesting was hearing from local authorities, where increasingly housing and health are being joined up under the same cabinet portfolios, and the importance of speaking the same language across those sectors.

The importance of equality and diversity was discussed in a range of contexts from a really well-received panel discussion about racial equality, the importance of providing homes for the LGBQT+ community, and keynote speakers recognising that trust is a crucial part of the equality and diversity agenda and that we need to ensure customers experience and see wide representation at a senior level within the sector.

I spoke on a panel about a session on exempt accommodation, chaired by Jack Simpson (assistant editor, news and investigations – Inside Housing) alongside councillor Sharon Thompson (cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods – Birmingham City Council) and Charlotte Bates (member consultant contributor and advocate for change – Expert Citizens CIC). I had the difficult task of making my opening comments after hearing Charlotte’s incredibly powerful and distressing, but completely eloquent, account of her experience in an exempt accommodation setting. She had been placed in a house with a vulnerable man facing his own challenges. But the line that really struck me, and that I continue to replay, is “he took my valuables and my value”. That one line is enough to show why we must all work together – whatever our role in the sector – to ensure all specialist housing is well managed and individuals suitably protected.