The future of supported housing must be top priority
With MPs back at the House of Commons today after the summer recess, the government must take an urgent look at the future funding of supported housing says CIH policy and practice officer Sarah Davis.
It’s now almost a year since the government announced details of its proposals for the future funding of supported housing – capping housing benefit for people who live in supported and sheltered housing to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate and providing a ‘top-up fund’ to local authorities to make up the difference. Following a consultation and a joint select committee inquiry, we are still waiting for a green paper on the issue, now expected later in autumn.
The continuing uncertainty is having a huge impact on the development of new homes for older people, people with mental and physical disabilities and victims of domestic abuse – some of the most vulnerable people in our society, in other words. The National Housing Federation reported last month that housing associations providing supported, sheltered and extra care housing have had to slash plans to build new homes by 85 per cent. And the huge discrepancy between LHA levels and the actual cost of providing supported housing in different areas has not only put on hold plans for new developments but raised concerns about the viability of existing schemes. The NHF has estimated that across the country, an estimated 156,000 homes or 41% of all supported housing would become unviable and be forced to close if the cap were implemented.
Riverside and other providers highlighted that, in the North East, 40 per cent of supported housing schemes had costs above LHA compared to six per cent in London. The three biggest specialist providers of housing for older people estimate an overall shortfall of £64 million between LHA rates and actual rents, hitting the North and Midlands particularly hard. The proposals have the potential to lead to huge variation in the supply of, and access to supported housing across the country, unless the top-up fund is adequately resourced and appropriately distributed.
We strongly welcomed the joint Work and Pensions and Communities and Local Government select committees report, which said the government should look again at the proposals and forget plans to use the LHA as a starting point. It would mean too much reliance on the top-up fund, creating concerns across the sector about:
- how the level of top - up funding will be set – will it be adequate?
- how long the ring fence will be maintained. Short-term commissioning puts at risk homes that are needed for the long term by older people and people with learning disabilities for example.
- whether the top-up fund will be increased to provide flexibility in the future for our ageing population and increased demand across the diverse range of people who benefit from supported housing.
We think the government should take up the committee’s recommendation to develop a supported housing allowance that could address the wide range of supported housing models and tackle the huge risk for supported housing in areas with low LHA, and to work with the sector in developing it. Piloting the new approach will be critical; getting this wrong puts at risk the homes and help many people need.
Supported housing already helps public services like health and social care to address the challenges these face from increasing demand and high costs; alongside the new framework we need to look at how much more could be done through a strategic approach to meeting local needs across housing, health and care. But to achieve this we need a funding system that provides long-term certainty, and for that funding to meet actual costs, with the flexibility to adapt to changing needs in the future.
Ministers and officials must take a long-term and strategic approach that will provide what we all want – a funding system that can encourage and support the development of more high-quality supported housing. And there is no time to waste – as Grand Union Housing Group chief executive Aileen Evans wrote in 24 Housing last week, this needs to be resolved now.