ALL of supported housing is in crisis, including sheltered housing, as a result of the Tories plans announced on 31 October 2017.
The housing sector is extremely misguided in suggesting that sheltered housing will be okay and the supporting living and emergency supported housing may be problematic in its funding.
This is simply wrong and sheltered housing funding is problematic for existing and future services and all other supported housing is in dire and acute risk of closure which I outline here.
The ‘sector’ needs a huge wake-up call that I detail below and before the usual alarmist or scaremongering labels are given to this I refer to the words of Domini Gunn in a recent Inside Housing article:
Ms Gunn told the conference: “Just from the conversations we’ve had in the past 24 hours, they’re just realising you can’t have a single financial model across sheltered and extra care, because they vary.”
She added that civil servants in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) didn’t find out about the government’s U-turn on applying the Local Housing Allowance cap to supported housing until two days before Theresa May made the announcement at Prime Minister’s Questions, suggesting Number 10 is driving the policy.
She said: “It was an absolute bolt out of the blue for the DCLG and DWP. They were gobsmacked that people under pensionable age lived in supported housing. They believed you could just put it all across to pension credit, because everybody was of pensionable age. You start to have to explain very basic things.”
You start to have to explain very basic things – about sheltered housing to the DCLG the government department where housing sits and to DWP who pay for housing benefit for rent including the proposed (a) new sheltered housing rent proposed and (b) new sheltered housing extra care rent proposed.
The fact that the government civil servants still do not understand how sheltered housing in all its forms operates is alarming. The new proposals in which the government says it has listened are over six years of alleged listening as the problems they have known about since the sector responded to the original consultation from July 2011. Yet we find Domini Gunn who has worked extensively with and for governments on all forms of supported housing since at least 2003 saying the civil servants do NOT know the most basic issues after at least six years.
I now turn to address just some of the issues with sheltered housing and so as not to confuse I mostly leave aside all other forms of supported housing and only comment on them where necessary to elaborate issues with sheltered housing.
Sheltered housing has three main types yet the government proposals state just two maximum funding options. Three into two does not go!
- Category 1 sheltered for ease of explanation is non resident warden schemes.
- Category 2 sheltered has a resident warden
- Extra Care is Category 2 but with on-site health and social care provision
Government is proposing just two rent maximums (maxima) for sheltered housing one for extra care and the other for both the first categories of with or without a resident warden. That is hugely problematic and especially outside of London in relation to the original proposal which is still in the minds of government in a link to the private sector housing benefit levels known as LHA.
In July 2016 I posted a blog (here) over the then link to LHA and sheltered housing about Liverpool which has LHA rates just below the national average. I will include extracts of the factual data below to explain.
Yet the first point is the average (non extra care) sheltered housing rent paid by housing benefit equated to LHA+38% or simply the average sheltered housing rent level for a 1 bed property was 38% more than a private tenant receives for a 1 bed property in general needs housing.
By contrast the average (non extra care) sheltered rent in London equated to LHA minus 38% and this is much more than exposing the original Tory policy of funding at the maximum LHA or LHA+0%. It reveals the huge disparity between rent levels in relation to LHA between regions but on a 5-minute inspection a huge disparity of sheltered rent levels within regions and even within the same local authority area.
Sheltered housing rent levels are published yearly and easily accessible through the Statistical Data Return (SDR) yet it is obvious the civil servants at DCLG and DWP have not even looked at these as if they had done they would have realised very quickly that you cannot set a one size fits all maximum amount of HB that will cover sheltered housing rent levels.
Put another way if DCLG and DWP officials did not even realise that sheltered housing accommodates a vast number of below working-age residents (typically starting at 55 and in some cases 45 year of age) then there is not a hope in hells chance that they know that sheltered housing rents have a massive variance even within the same local authority area and that in many cases it is possible (and correct) that some sheltered rents in low rent Liverpool can be higher than like-for-like sheltered housing in high-rent London.
In my post of July 2016 I included a few data tables and I reproduce them below to explain.
Figure 1 Top ten rents (not extra care)
None of the above sheltered housing schemes are extra care schemes. As such the new sheltered rent proposed will need to cover them in its new maximum in order for the status quo to be maintained. The highest sheltered rent level equates to LHA+85% and the average equates to the aforementioned LHA+38%. The lowest sheltered rent is LHA minus 8% for a 1 bed property in Knowsley which neighbours Liverpool.
Figure 1 Bottom ten rents (not extra care)
How can you set a maximum rent level for resident and non-resident warden sheltered housing with a range from 8% less than LHA to LHA plus 85%?
That is a rhetorical question as it simply cannot be done and Liverpool or Merseyside is not an outlier here as the massive variance in rent levels in sheltered housing (not extra care) occurs in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and many other large cities that I have researched. This is a national issue and rents range from LHA minus x% to LHA plus a high percentage in all those areas.
London does not have this issue as typically we see inner London have a 1 bed LHA rate of £260 per week and outer London £180+ per week and thus non extra care sheltered housing rents are all within or below the LHA 1 bed rate.
Government is proposing – we are told but no detail as yet released – that the new sheltered rent maxima will vary to reflect regional differences yet that would need to cover the LHA+85% in Liverpool and also the London average of LHA minus 38%!
Note that some London sheltered rent levels are LHA minus 50% at around £130 per week too so the notion that a sheltered rent maxima can be set anywhere across the UK is wholly delusional and will not come to pass. It cannot happen because it is impossible to even set a figure except for the highest current rent level that can only massively increase ALL sheltered housing rent levels and would see the housing benefit bill increase substantially – and a ball park figure here would be at least £1 billion extra housing benefit per year!
The level of incompetence within DCLG and DWP is astonishing as the above outline detail shows. Quite how the ‘great and the good’ of the UK housing sector is lauding this as success for sheltered housing certainty is quite another!
Did all the ‘experts’ whom the DCLG and DWP consulted over this only look at London 1 bed LHA levels and think a sheltered rent maxima was somehow workable whilst ignoring the bloody obvious fact that this cannot possibly work at all outside of the English capital?
That would appear to be the case as the DCLG decision on sheltered and further consultations on all other supported housing rent funding state that the government has listened to a variety of experts in housing and academia. It doesn’t take any sophisticated statistical model or anything more than THE most basic calculations to realise you cannot possibly set a defined sheltered rent level and maxima when current sheltered rents vary from LHA minus eight per cent to LHA plus eighty five per cent!!
WTF has been going on for the last 6 years plus in the behind closed doors meetings and conversations with DCLG, DWP and all such ‘experts’ in housing and academia to arrive at a mind-blowingly stupid and wholly impractical and unworkable solution to set up sheltered rent!
Regrettably DCLG and DWP and the wider Tory government appears wedded to this solution and they will say we have consulted and liaised ad nauseam with sector and academic experts in arriving at the sheltered rent solution. That is the biggest ‘oh fuck’ moment you can imagine for both existing sheltered housing and future sheltered housing in terms of the state funding of rent there.
When, and regrettably not IF, this sheltered rent level is set what will happen? If it is the average current cost then all those current sheltered housing rent levels above this new maxima are in danger of financial survival and it would appear that (a) sheltered tenants will be charged more to make up the rent from their pensions or savings; or (b) many existing services in sheltered housing will be cut; or more likely (c) both of these.
For existing services currently below the sheltered rent then it is likely that inflation-busting rent increase will take place year on year as so-called social landlords seek to move current sheltered rent levels closer to the new sheltered rent maxima – which means they are only affordable to those in receipt of housing benefit and not to those who self-pay their rent!
In short whether the sheltered tenants current rent level is below or above the new to be introduced sheltered rent maxima then the tenant is getting screwed in one form or another! How nice of all of these housing ‘experts’ who have worked so intensely with DCLG and DWP to come up with this crock of shit that they are lauding in their blithe ignorance of what it means!
One final and quick point on emergency and short-term supported housing provision such as homeless hostels and domestic violence refuges is that we ONLY have proposals for that one stage of supported housing and nothing whatsoever on other necessary resettlement stages of such provision. Nothing at all.
For a very simple explanation a domestic abuse service can typically have three stages of support. The first is outreach and advising the person to actually flee after typically 37 incidences of violence. The refuge is the second stage and the third stage is post-refuge visiting or floating support. Yet the DCLG & DWP announcement only concerns the 2nd or refuge stage alone.
A homeless hostel typical has a post hostel visiting or floating support stage after the emergency access provision of the hostel itself. Again there is nothing in the Tory announcement about this – and for both after six fecking years or more of alleged expert involvement and government listening and consideration!!
I’ll finish there to avoid a doctoral thesis length critique off the top of my head about how disastrous these proposals are for hostel and refuge provision and how despite the great many (vague) assurances from government we WILL see mass closures of hostel and refuges due to this insane and incompetent set of proposals.
___________________ UPDATE __________________
This piece from September 2017 regarding a new extra care sheltered scheme in Hull – the lowest LHA area of England – sees that rent for a 1 bed equate to LHA + 115% whereas many extra care schemes in London are still below the equivalent 1 bed LHA. Yes the setting of the extra care rent maxima is going to be just as impossible to set as the sheltered rent maxima I describe above!!