Richard Graham is MP for Gloucester.
There is no single definition of supported housing, but it caters for an incredibly diverse range of people: from long-term sheltered accommodation for older people to short-term emergency housing for those who have recently become homeless or are fleeing domestic abuse. So surely everyone wants it, and there’s no shortage of new, creative schemes?
The answers are yes and no: which is why the report I co-chaired with Helen Hayes MP, together representing the Work and Pensions and Communities and Local Government Select Committees, focuses on addressing the issue and recommending solutions.
David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, explained that the sector was for people who “are at that point in their lives vulnerable and need a bit of support to be able to live independently”. More than 700,000 people in the UK benefit from support and supervision provided within the supported housing sector. Since 2011 the Government has been looking at ways to reform the funding mechanism. It’s understandably expensive and the intention of reform is to increase the supply of supported housing, bring greater local focus on outcomes, oversight and cost control, and increase the role that quality, individual outcomes and value for money play.
Under the September 2016 proposals core rent and service charges would be funded through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit up to the level of the applicable Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate. Rents and service charges in housing association supported housing are regulated but are usually higher than in ordinary social housing because of the extra costs of the building and the needs of residents. Cutting tenants’ Housing Benefit down to the level of LHA would mean that in many parts of the country there is gap between the rent charged and the benefit available to pay it. So for costs above the LHA rate, the Government proposed to devolve ring-fenced top-up funding for disbursement by local authorities.
But there are concerns about what rent would be covered, so our report recommended a new Supported Housing Allowance, with a system of bands for different types of provision and a cap within each band to reflect the actual cost of provision in the sector, instead of the current Local Housing Allowance rate. The Allowance would be calculated according to a formula made up of a fixed amount for provision, consistent between geographic areas, and a smaller variable amount that reflect differences in land costs in each area. The Government should work with the sector to identify bands that adequately reflect the diversity of provision and variation in costs in the sector.
This would ensure tenants only require top-up funding in exceptional circumstances and would reduce the disparity between the supply of homes and services across the country that has led to a serious shortfall in the supply of supported housing. In fact, we believe a Supported Housing Allowance could be achieved at no additional cost to the Government.
To meet the Government’s objective for greater oversight of quality and value for money in the sector, tenants should only be eligible for the Supported Housing Allowance if they live in accommodation registered for regular inspection by their local authority.
These key recommendations have been well received by providers since the report was published in April. A consortium of five housing associations, with about 43,000 supported housing and older people’s tenancies concluded our recommendation is workable and viable. Riverside, Hanover, Home Group, St Mungo’s, Housing & Care 21, and Homeless Link believe that current rents can fit within a simple SHA with just four bands which, with relatively modest regional weightings, could take the great majority of schemes outside the need for local discretionary top-ups.
So, for no additional government expenditure, the SHA approach would reduce the risk to housing providers and their tenants, take away the postcode lottery of an LHA-based system and enable new – and much needed – schemes for older people and those with support needs currently on hold.
The Government is right to consider alternative funding for emergency accommodation and I’m encouraged that ministers have responded positively to our report’s main recommendations.
We also recommended a separate funding system for women’s refuges—which operate as a national network—and that Government should work with Women’s Aid and providers to devise it. We think there should be a distinct model of national funding, separate to the arrangements for other forms of supported housing, in order to meet its earlier objective that “no victim is turned away from accessing critical support services delivered by refuges” by 2020.
Most current supported housing is good value for money, providing significant cost savings for the wider public sector, but some is of disappointingly poor quality. There is limited oversight of quality provision, especially in England, and we think the Government is right to establish a set of national standards to enable monitoring of quality in all supported housing in England and Wales, with a specific emphasis on improving the quality of life for tenants. All providers should be registered with their local authority, who should undertake annual inspections of all such schemes in their area to ensure a minimum standard of provision.
If these main recommendations are accepted by Sajid Javid, we believe they will provide a strong long term future for high quality supported housing that works for tenants, providers and tax payers.