Supported Housing in crisis.Vulnerable severely let down by perverse £ system

Yesterday the Tories caved in and abandoned their plans to use Universal Credit to pay for the costs in supported housing. They backed down some 7 years after first proposing this (ideological and totally impractical) change in a consultation paper in July 2011 and have now agreed that the legacy Housing Benefit system will cover housing costs in supported housing.

The two main housing lobbies of the National Housing Federation and Chartered Institute of Housing as well as housing trade journals and the usual suspects of housing CEOs et al proclaimed this to be wonderful news to be roundly welcomed and also stated – in huge delusion and error – that this now ensures supported housing services such as refuges are now safe.

Below are actual funding levels from two supported housing services and you can see the significantly different proportion of funding they have and which typifies the very real funding distinction between low level support services such as category 1 sheltered housing and a high support need service whose client group I withhold only for anonymity reasons.

Both services are provided by clients I advise and I also developed the funding figures and their correct proportioning between housing costs (paid by HB) and support costs paid through other funding streams.

support funding %

As you can see the service on the left – the low support level service – now has 91.4% of its overall funding secured and available as a right through the Housing Benefit Regulations.  The decision yesterday is therefore great news (and not before time!)

Yet as you can also see the service on the right – a high support level service – now has just 23.2% of its overall funding secures and available by right.  Thus this announcement and U-turn by the government gives no cause to pop the champagne corks!

Note too that the above two services are not outliers and some supported housing services I know have more than 95% of their overall funding through HB while one has as little as 18%.

The vast majority of services that comes under the supported housing umbrella term are sheltered housing and the vast majority of that is what is known as category 1 sheltered.  This has very negligible support that equates to less than 30 minutes per resident per week and falls into the lowest decile of the only low support definition ever stated in HB Regulations which is anything up to 5 hours per person per week of support. (5 – 21 hours is medium and over 21 hours pppw is high support according to a year 2000 HB circular.)

As such the vast majority of supported housing units are category 1 sheltered who have negligible support costs such as the 8.6% in the example above figures that are from 2005 when the average sheltered housing support charge was £12 per person per week. Because of this extremely low level of support the vast majority of the overall funding for Cat 1 sheltered housing is via HB (the 91.4% illustrated) and why the NHF and CIH housing lobbies are delighted.

It also means the vast majority of buildings where supported housing takes place is also Cat 1 sheltered and owned by councils and housing associations.  So, if the support services lose funding the Social Rented Sector landlords can easily repurpose those buildings into general needs flats or other general needs provision.

Yet the exact opposite happens when say a domestic abuse refuge operates out of a SRS owned property which is the norm.  If their support funding goes then that service is gone as a typical funding element in refuges would be 66% HB funding and 34% support funding and no service can survive with a 34% cut to funding.  Back in 2011 when the government first sought to alter the funding for supported housing their first proposal to limit it to LHA only, LHA + £20 or LHA + £40 per week saw me start blogging and actual figures for refuges I advised would have seen a 24% – 65% overall funding cut and inevitable closure for these refuges.

What you can rightly deduce from all of the above is that supported housing services are highly diverse in their funding structures and as such you should also deduce that the decision yesterday to maintain HB as the funding stream for housing costs in supporting housing ONLY benefits low level supported housing and it does not benefit high support or even medium support level supported housing services.

What can also be correctly deduced is that the revenue funding system for supported housing actually works against the vulnerable clients who have medium or high level needs … and that the system is perverse and failing and failing ever more quickly too because it incentivises low level support services and strongly disincentivises medium and high level support services both existing and future ones.

Across the UK there are hundreds of thousands of vulnerable supported housing residents with long term support needs in, for example, learning, mental, physical and sensory disability fields and other allegedly homogeneous client groups who all have medium to high support needs.  Their weekly support costs can be often over £250 per person per week or twenty times the support cost of the typical Cat 1 sheltered tenant.  These may seem high but they are not as they prevent the same individual only have the very disempowering registered care option forced on them that can easily cost well over £1000 per person per week and fall on local government budgets as mandated costs.

The past decade, ever since the last Labour government announced that support funding (SP) would have the ring fence removed has – ever so coincidentally!!! – seen a great deal of funding cuts and closure of such services and, surprise, surprise, the universally accepted crisis of social care the UK now has that even saw central government allow local government an extra 2% council tax precept increases to pay for the crisis in adult social care.

I could say so much more but the supported housing system in the UK is broken, it is perverse and it is rapidly failing and needs to move away from its perverse funding incentives that lead to only those with low level support need being housed and supported.

Each year more and more higher cost is deferred to a future year and each year a higher percentage of that higher deferred cost moves to inescapable local authority cost as individuals denied support or only having low level support for medium and high level need have to move into the residential care sector – a bit like extending your credit card limits more and more and year on year without any regard to how you will pay the ever increasing debt back.

Just as we have seen recently with the extra 2% increase in everyones council tax to pay for increasingly necessary additional adult care, we will soon see 3% and 4% and then 5% council tax increases to pay for the exact same thing … so if you were in any doubt that the supported housing system is broken and urgently needs addressing you can no longer be.

Note too that none of the above takes into account that for the past 7 years while the government has dithered over the funding of supported housing next to no new supported housing has been built and provision has also decreased significantly with one example being around 5,000 fewer single homeless hostel spaces across England alone and you wonder where all the rough sleepers have come from?!  There are also far fewer refuge spaces and domestic abuse has increased sharply.

Did you also know that the Family Resource Survey – a very key independent study used for decades by all governments deciding social welfare policy – revealed a surprising 18% and 22% increase in the number of households with mental health and disability problems … and yes of course supported housing provision for those two vulnerable groups has also gone down too!

Those few examples are barely scratching the surface of the UKs increased need and demand for supported housing services that have all seen a fall in supported housing provision over the past seven years while this government has dithered and held onto its ideologically driven back of a fag packet proposed changes to the funding of supported housing.

Supported Housing is undoubtedly in crisis and is a crisis that needs urgent and radical attention as doing nothing … well I will let you finish that sentence reader!!


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