More funding for supported housing is a no brainer
Supported housing in Britain currently involves taking two contrasting approaches to tackle a big social problem.
The challenge is how to accommodate those with the most severe housing needs. This includes people with physical and learning disabilities, autistic people, victims of domestic violence, those leaving prison with nowhere to go and people with alcohol and addiction problems.
The two approaches to meeting these needs are, on the one hand, to support dedicated, regulated, bona fide housing and care providers; and on the other hand, to pay large subsidies to unregulated, unscrupulous, private landlords.
The Treasury needs to recognise that more funding would repay the investment in savings to NHS and local authority care budgets
The results achieved by registered providers are excellent. In Riverside’s case more than four-fifths of people (83 per cent) moved on from homelessness in 2021/22 after staying in hostels and shelters for a maximum of 24 months.
However, more than 90 per cent of Homeless Link members said rising costs are impacting their ability to maintain service and support standards. One in four providers of supported housing said the cost-of-living crisis put their service at risk of closing altogether.
Whilst specialist providers have struggled with tough budgets, rogue landlords have been making huge profits. The former need and deserve more support from the relevant parts of government. And the latter need to be replaced or fiercely regulated.
Supported housing generates huge cost savings – not least in preventative healthcare, but also in enabling discharges from hospital, and reduced spending on residential care.
However, it suffers from the age-old problem of a lack up of joined-up government. Although it clearly falls within the remit of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the cost savings it generates mostly benefit the Department of Health and Social Care. An over-arching strategic approach is needed.
Therefore, the government’s decision to step back from the £300m DHSC Strategic Housing Fund set out in the social care reform white paper is particularly disappointing.
The Treasury needs to recognise that more funding would repay the investment in savings to NHS and local authority care budgets.
A key funding mechanism for supported housing comes from an exemption from the usual limits – Local Housing Allowance levels – that cap rents covered by Housing Benefit/Universal Credit. This means providers can meet housing management and maintenance costs that are necessarily higher than normal levels.
But this important concession has opened the door to exploitation of this “exempt” accommodation by private landlords who house vulnerable people, charge high rents for care and support but then provide next to nothing.
Last year’s damning report by the Housing, Levelling Up and Communities Committee on this issue contained ghastly examples of exempt accommodation where people with a history of violence were housed with victims of domestic abuse, and people trying to end a substance addiction were housed with heroin users.
Last month saw Royal Assent for the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Act. In future, supported housing providers will need to be licensed by their local authority and meet national standards of good practice. This new regulatory regime should close the door on the exploitation and misery caused by these despicable operators.
Now these savings in Housing Benefit must be ploughed back into proper provision for the exemplary providers who deserve more help for the invaluable role they play.
To protect this crucial sector which saves public money, the government must ring-fence and increase long-term revenue funding for supported housing to ensure spending at least matches the £1.6bn per year allocated to local authorities in England in 2010.
Lord Best, crossbench peer and co-chair of the APPG on Housing and Care for Older People
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