Supported housing reforms ‘could cause the next crisis in social care’, Hackney Council warns MPs

Thousands of elderly or disabled people and those fleeing domestic violence could see their vital housing put at risk by damaging government reforms, Hackney Council warned in Parliament yesterday.

Plans to change funding for supported housing – where people get extra help for conditions like dementia, physical disabilities or because they have left an abusive relationship – could leave a shortfall to cover rent and maintenance, Cllr Rebecca Rennison, Mayoral Advisor for Advice Services and Preventing Homelessness told MPs.

Giving evidence to the Work and Pensions and Communities and Local Government Select Committee, Cllr Rennison said the proposals would mean added stress for those with long-term conditions and mean provision of basic disability aids such as stair lifts, assisted bathrooms and emergency alert systems would be at risk.

Currently, residents in supported housing receive housing benefit to cover the costs of rent as well as extra facilities and equipment. The Government wants to change this, so benefits only cover rent and are calculated based on the lowest average local private rents, rather than the much higher rents supported housing providers usually charge. Councils would be asked to cover this gap, as well as extra non-housing costs, through a separate fund, which ministers have refused to protect from cuts after the first year of the reforms.

Housing associations and charities – who currently provide the majority of supported housing such as sheltered accommodation, hostels and refuges – have already warned they will not build new facilities unless the Government commits to ring-fenced future funding.

Hackney Council has asked the Government to commit to providing long-term funding based on the needs of residents in supported housing and test the proposals in pilot projects before introducing them nationwide.

Cllr Rebecca Rennison, Mayoral Advisor for Advice Services and Preventing Homelessness
These bungled reforms could create the next crisis in social care – creating more barriers to people being able to live independently and putting basic support for those who most need it at risk.

Residents in Hackney should feel confident that if they need to flee an abusive relationship, need care for an elderly relative suffering dementia or support for a child with learning difficulties, they can rely on safe, well-maintained accommodation that meets their needs.

Instead, these plans will leave people worried about how to pay for their home, discourage women from leaving a violent partner and simply increase the number of people turning up at A&E departments.

The Government must put in place long-term, sustainable funding for supported housing, rather than a quick fix that simply shunts the risks and costs onto local councils creaking under the strain of an underfunded social care system.
Cllr Rebecca Rennison, Mayoral Advisor for Advice Services and Preventing Homelessness

The Select Committee – made up of MPs from all parties – is scrutinising the Government’s plans through its Future of Supported Housing Inquiry, which is taking evidence from experts, supported housing providers and local authorities.

Ministers consulted on plans to reform supported housing funding earlier this year because of the upcoming introduction of Universal Credit to replace different forms of benefits claimants currently receive.

They want the money residents receive to pay for rent for their supported housing to be set at Local Housing Allowance levels – a fixed amount set at what the lowest local rents are in the area.

This will not cover the higher rents most supported housing providers charge, meaning local councils could have to cover this shortfall – as well as costs for extra facilities needed to provide care such as communal areas, additional staff and maintenance of disability equipment.

But the Government has not set out how much funding it will provide for this, whether this money will rise in line with need or how the system will work – leaving councils and service users worried it will not provide enough money to cover the extra costs. In Hackney alone, nearly 700 people in permanent supported housing could be affected by the change.

The new model would not affect other benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independent Payments.

Hackney Council has seen government funding to provide services cut by £110million since 2010, while increasing demand means it spends £42m more each year to provide them.